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25/09/2021

Former Tipperary hurler Brendan Maher had the complete package, says Westside

Changing of the guard in the county with retirements of Liam Sheedy and Brendan Maher

Brendan Maher

As an All-Ireland winning minor and senior captain, Brendan Maher is a member of an exclusive club in Tipperary

In a weekend when Liam Sheedy’s retirement came hot on the heels of that of Brendan Maher, there’s a sense of a changing of the guard in Tipperary hurling.
I don’t know if Alfred Lord Tennyson knew anything about hurling – cricket maybe – but his line “the old order changeth yielding place to new” certainly holds currency here. Tipperary hurling is in a state of flux and 2022 will look very different now on many fronts.
In truth neither of the weekend announcements was a surprise. Watchers of Sheedy will know that he’s not a man to hang around too long and with Brendan there was a sense that ever since the All-Ireland club final his hurling had passed its peak. Both were widely expected to step aside and both leave behind remarkable legacies.
Brendan Maher was a central component of that golden generation that did the minor double in 06/07 and rapidly matured to senior stardom. Significantly he leaves the inter-county stage at the same time as Joe Canning, their careers running parallel paths throughout.
In the early rounds of the 06 minor series Brendan was positioned at midfield but by All-Ireland final time he was relocated to the full back line beside Paudie Maher and Mickey Cahill. Canning was gunning for a third minor medal, so securing the last line of defence was essential.
The Borris-Ileigh man had that versatility which often meant there were varying views of his optimum position. As a defender he could man-mark the best of them or dominate a central position like number six. Then he had the mobility for midfield or indeed the scoring touch for half forward. He scored 28 championship points in 58 appearances for Tipperary.
In many ways Brendan Maher had the complete package. It was interesting to read the Kilkenny tributes on his retirement with Eddie Brennan, for example, suggesting that he was the one Tipp man they’d love to have had Noreside. He had that Kilkenny-esque combination of great skill and a hard combative edge.
The hardball side of his game was sometimes overlooked. By modern standards he was almost slight of build, standing 5 feet and 11 inches and weighing around 12 and-a-half stone. But pound for pound he packed some punch. He was fearless and took no prisoners in the collision.
He had both aptitude and attitude in abundance, which contributed to the completeness of the man and the player. On the skill side he was very orthodox right-sided and right hand on top but equally adept with the left side. Remember that famous point against Ballygunner in the Munster club final? Or the equally recalled one against St. Thomas’ in the All-Ireland semi-final when scoring with a stick minus half the bas.
As a winning senior and minor captain for Tipperary he joined an exclusive club, which underlined his leadership qualities. On and off the pitch he was one to admire. His flawless recovery from a cruciate injury emphasised his exemplary approach to the game and all its requirements. He was a true professional in attitude, if not in earnings.
He leaves the inter-county game with a well-earned reputation as one of the county’s greatest-ever exponents of the sport. I don’t know if he has any inclination towards involvement with underage teams but it’s an avenue the County Board should definitely investigate. For young aspiring players he’s the perfect role model.

Above: Westside says Liam Sheedy was a great leader

Liam Sheedy too departs the scene with a county’s appreciation ringing in his ears. As a player he wasn’t fortunate enough to win the top prize but in management he delivered some of our greatest days and will forever be acknowledged as a truly great bainisteoir.
In my lifetime the 2010 All Ireland win stands apart as the finest of the lot. To rebound from the heartache of 2009 and stop the Kilkenny drive for five in such spectacular fashion really was the day of all days. And it had Sheedy’s fingerprints all over it.
Management is a tough gig. It obviously requires a very strong personality to handle such an eclectic mix of personalities, from players to backroom team. There’s a lovely video clip doing the rounds at the moment of Sheedy interacting with the players during a water break, I think it is. For some there’s a hand on the shoulder and gentle word in the ear; for others there’s a fist pump to the chest. Different players required a different approach and Sheedy knew his men.
Ultimately that’s the essence of the manager’s job, to know his players and know how to elicit the very best from them and Sheedy could read people like no other.
His organisational ability, his capacity to delegate, his gift for surrounding himself with the very best, his attention to detail – these were just some of the many qualities that made him a great leader.
I liked too his general deportment as a manager. The passion was always evident but in a very dignified way. In victory or defeat he was always gracious, choosing his words well with never a trace of bitterness or triumphalism. He certainly enhanced our image as a county.
Liam Sheedy went against lots of advice when he returned for a second stint as manager. It was a brave move but one that reaped a rich harvest in 2019. We’ll be forever grateful.
The search for his successor now becomes a huge task for the County Board. It’s a changeover moment of major significance because there is an undeniable sense that one era is over and a new one commencing. Getting the right management for the task will be critical.
Liam Cahill is the obvious replacement but his role with Waterford adds a significant complication. Will he see it as the appropriate moment to depart the Deise after just two seasons or will he see some unfinished business that he’s obligated to take on down south?
I think there’s no doubt the Ballingarry man wants to be Tipperary manager at some stage but timing is the issue. It’s a big call.
Meanwhile we’ll watch as interested neutrals when Limerick and Cork go to war on Sunday in a first-ever final between the counties. Limerick are red hot favourites at 2/7 against 10/3 for the Rebels.
No contest then? Hopefully there will be – and a right lively one with sustained suspense.
There’s no doubt Cork are more of a work in progress as opposed to Limerick’s more finished look. Yet the Rebels are making strides, prompting some journalists to suggest that the next four or five All-Irelands rest between this pair. Time will tell.
Undeniably Cork have made significant progress. I’m beginning to like the shape of their defence, which in previous years was too flaky. Now they seem to have a full back of really solid credentials in Robert Downey, while Mark Coleman is a classy centre back. Sean O’Donoghue is defending excellently too and in Tim O’Mahoney they have a modern style wing back with pace and attacking flair.
Darragh Fitzgibbon can be a pacy partner for Luke Meade and in attack pace is the byword as well, with Jack O’Connor the ultimate speedster. Pat Horgan adds experience and free-taking excellence while Shane Kingston can be a major asset whether as starter or replacement, as we saw against Kilkenny.
That victory over Kilkenny was hugely significant and should inject a bit of old-style swagger into the Cork effort. Will it be enough to end the Rebel drought?
I doubt it. Limerick look to be the more finished product. There’s a sense of John Kiely’s team having been here, done the business and now chasing an unmatched place in their county’s history. They’re big, bold and brilliant at what they do so Cork will need something special to upset that rhythm.
You search in vain for weak links in the Limerick set-up. In Nickie Quaid they have arguably the best goalie in the business at the moment. The return of Dan Morrissey to full back adds strength to their last line of defence – I don’t really understand why he was ever dropped to the bench.
The half line is big and powerful – Kyle Hayes a major threat when the storms upfield. At midfield Darragh O’Donovan was man of the match the last day and Will O’Donoghue is often underestimated.
The attack has so many potential match-winners on a given day. I’ve found a new regard for Cian Lynch this year, the flicks and tricks now complemented by a match-winning influence. Hegarty has probably not produced his best so far this year but always has that potential to repeat last year’s display. Tom Morrissey, Gillane and company take a lot of watching both individually and collectively when their combination style of play gets moving.
Peter Casey is available for selection and herein lies a warning for Limerick. On a personal level one is glad for Peter Casey that he found a more sympathetic Croke Park ear than others in the past such as Brian O’Meara. However, I agree with Donal Og Cusack that Limerick have been riding their luck in terms of discipline. In fact, I know of no other county that has got so many breaks in this department. And luck sometimes has a habit of running out.
Fergal Horgan’s appointment for his third final is a ringing endorsement of his status as the best in the business at the moment. Some would argue that the competition isn’t too hot but that would be unfair to the Tipp man, who has shown the right temperament on so many key occasions. Good luck to him on Sunday.

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