Sunday’s All Ireland quarter-final clash between Tipperary and Laois will throw up another meeting between Brendan Maher and Eddie Brennan, though the Kilkenny man will be in an entirely different role.
The former Tipperary captain was given the formidable task of marking Brennan during his first senior All Ireland final ten years ago and it was an experience that has stayed with him to this day.
“He’s always the fella I say is my toughest opponent. Eddie gave me a run-around in an All-Ireland in 2009.
“In the first half I think he scored three points off me. I think I’m the only person to ever say I was delighted to be moved onto Henry Shefflin”, laughs Maher at the launch of the All Ireland hurling series.
“He was an unbelievable hurler and a lovely fella as well. I’ve met him a good few times.”
The 30-year-old is impressed with the role his former opponent has played in the resurgence of Laois hurling since taking over as manager at the end of last year.
The O’Moore County find themselves in an All Ireland quarter-final for the first time in 40 years following their Joe McDonagh final win over Westmeath and a historic victory over Dublin last weekend.
Maher warns that Tipperary can’t afford to fall into the same trap Dublin did, especially given their 12-point humbling at the hands of Limerick in the Munster final.
“I was surprised but I wasn’t shocked. I had said during the week that I kind of fancied Laois, just coming off the win in the McDonagh final and playing in their home pitch, I felt like they’d have a great chance.
“I think when you get to All-Ireland final stage, complacency shouldn’t come into the picture at all. No matter who you’re playing, it’s an All-Ireland quarter-final.
“We’ll do our bit of analysis on Laois but the majority of your focus is on yourself and getting yourself right. I think that’s where we fell down in the Munster final, we didn’t focus on ourselves enough. We didn’t make sure that we were ready to perform and we need to make sure now that we don’t do that again.”
Twelve months ago and a return to Croke Park in the near future looked improbable for Tipperary. Having exited the championship in June, Maher spent the best part of 2018 recovering from a cruciate injury. Morale was low and the team were without a manager following Michael Ryan’s departure.
Fast forward to the present and the Premier County are in a much healthier position. Having dominated the Munster round-robin series, the loss to Limerick marked their first defeat in the championship.
Experience has taught Maher to put their current position into perspective and enjoy the upcoming challenge.
“As an overall season so far we’re very pleased with where we’re at. We’ve played five championship games, we won four out of five and performed very well in those four games. You need to sit back the odd time and just go, ‘Right, have a bit of perspective here.’
“This time last year I was lying on the couch at home with my leg in a brace looking on. So I’m not going to complain too much about being in a quarter-final.”
Now in his 11th season at senior level, Maher is considered part of the ‘old-guard’ alongside fellow soldiers, Padraic Maher, Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan and Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher.
The class of 2010 have proven throughout the championship that they are still the top performers for Liam Sheedy’s side but the team have been boosted by sprinklings of youth in the likes of Jake Morris and Ger Browne who will make his first championship start on Sunday.
The experience of Maher and Co. has allowed them to take the positives from the Munster final loss as well as the negatives and appreciate the fact that they are still in with a chance of lifting the Liam MacCarthy in 2019.
“In 2010 we were beaten by Cork in the first round of the championship and we came back to win that year. It’s not a nice thing to go through but with the experience a good few of us have had, we’ve been through ups and downs.
“We’ve won All-Irelands and lost All-Irelands and we know it’s just something you have to deal with. It’s up to us, the older lads on the panel, to try and lead the younger lads who haven’t been through that kind of thing and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.
“Rather than overthink it and stay thinking about a game that’s gone, we’ll focus on what’s coming down the line. We have to remember that we’re in a great position. We’re in an All-Ireland quarter-final with the big prize still to play for, so it’s a great position to be in.”