GAELIC GAMES : For most of his hurling life, Pádraic Maher has only felt the escalator rising under his feet. The Tipp minor teams on which he won back-to-back All-Irelands in 2006 and 2007 were the first successful teams from the county at that level in a decade.
A generation of Tipp players had come and gone since their last senior All-Ireland but he picked one up in only his second year. Thurles Sarsfields had collected just a single county title in 35 years before he made the senior team but since he’s become a fixture, they’ve rattled off three out of the last four.
It’s the sort of career where the toast always lands buttered-side-up. Or at least it was until this summer’s All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny. The tarring and feathering was one thing, the stink that clung to him in the aftermath something else. As the game got away from Tipp, Maher grew more and more bitter and got loose with his hurl. He says himself that if the game had been closer, his swing on TJ Reid would and should have got him the line. But it was a strike that wasn’t seen at the time, the one on Michael Rice, that lingered against his name. Unfairly so, in his eyes.
“To be honest, I didn’t know anything really happened for a week or two after it. I didn’t watch the match back for obvious reasons. And so I didn’t really know what had happened until I watched it back. I saw a few things about myself in the papers and I was thinking: ‘well, I better look at the incident just so I know what people are talking about’. I knew myself that it was a genuine accident and that there was nothing malicious in it and when I saw it back I knew I’d done nothing wrong.”
Never is the need to melt quietly back into society greater than after a defeat of the magnitude that Tipp endured. But the combination of rattle and hum over his clubmate Lar Corbett’s performance and the damage done to Rice’s hand meant Maher couldn’t quite locate a rock to crawl under. The annual retreat to the club was more welcome this year than ever.
“Some of the stuff that was written and that people were saying was tough to take because it was a perfectly normal challenge on my account. It was a 50-50 challenge and I didn’t see anything wrong with it, but people were giving out and saying this and that about me. I just wanted to get on with hurling for Sarsfields.
“Michael’s a sound fella and I know him from being on a few All Star trips. He’s a lovely fella and I hope he’s okay and that he’ll recover alright and be back next year.
“I haven’t been in touch with him yet because, in a way, I didn’t want to be ringing him up and getting in touch just because people were talking about it. I didn’t want it to be, ‘Well, he’s only getting in touch because everybody’s going on about it.’ I’ll wait. I just want to concentrate on the club and then I’ll see after that.”
For all their success in Tipp over the past four seasons, Thurles Sarsfields have always found the trip a furlong too stiff in Munster.
In 2009, they lost an epic first-rounder against Newtownshandrum, only just coming out on the wrong end of a 0-19 to 1-15 scoreline.
But it was the following year’s final that stung the most, going down to a hapless 0-9 to 0-8 defeat to Sunday’s opponents De La Salle on a day when they shot 17 wides.
That a club with 32 Tipperary titles has never taken a Munster crown has long gone past the point of being a curious anomaly.
People will soon start to point and stare.
“To be honest, yeah, when it came to 2009 and 2010 winning the county title was grand but we were kind of saying amongst ourselves that we have to push on a bit here and try to go all the way in Munster.
“The club went so long without a county title that winning a few in the last number of years has been kind of a monkey off our back. But we have to go to the next level with it now.
“It’s time for us to do that and to go on to win a Munster club. Going all the way back over the years the club has never won one.
“We have to try and turn that around on Sunday. For a town so steeped in the GAA history and for such an established club, not to have a Munster club title is a kind of a blot on our copybook.”
Cleaning it up on Sunday would help to turn a sour year sweet.