S P O R T
Just a Maher of Luck ... off the record with Brendan Maher
Miles away from the pampered and petulant Premier League superstars, Niamh Walsh spends time with the latest GAA star Brendan Maher, whose unwavering commitment is a shining example for today’s youth.
AA All-Star, All-Ireland senior hurling champinship medal, All-Ireland minor hurling championship medal, Under-21 hurling championship medal, Irish Independent Young Player of the Year and a personalised Wikipedia page. Such a list would leave most people breathless but it is a long puck away from what this ambitious young man hopes to achieve. Brendan Maher, the talented Tipperary wing back, has made quite a name for himself in the sports realm recently and every inch of it well deserved. He has displayed hurling which can only be described as masterful, and all at the age of only 22. He’s been described as a hurling genius and as possibly being the greatest player of our generation. Given his achievements so far, it’s
not an outlandish claim. For such a well known sportsman and such a long list of achievements, one would expect signs of over-confidence or slight arrogance which many players his age commonly hold. Prepare to be bitterly disappointed though, as he is grounded, down to earth and is well aware that he has been very fortunate. “I suppose I have been lucky to achieve what I have in the past few years. There are lads on the panel that have waited ten years for a medal so I feel very lucky.” Brendan’s achievements have not been grasped from thin air; he says hurling has always been in his blood. “I’m the youngest of four boys and they all play. My father and uncles would have played as well so I was introduced to it at a very young age.” Just like any youngster who is fascinated by what their siblings were achieving, his brothers were his main inspiration when he was young, along with another hero. “My older brothers and my cousin Philip would
have been the people that I looked up to and wanted to be like. Tommy Dunne was always my favourite player growing up though.” In 2010, Tipperary became All-Ireland Hurling Champions with Brendan among the most influential players, despite being one of the youngest to take to the pitch against Kilkenny. That day is still etched in his memory and he still manages to relive it as if it were yesterday, “It’s very hard to describe the feeling. So many things run through your head but obviously you have a great sense of pride and relief that you’ve gone as far as you can as regards achieving your goals.” On that day, Kilkenny were favourites to win their fifth All-Ireland in a row but despite this, Brendan maintains that stopping Kilkenny doing so wasn’t the sole motivation for their triumphant win. “We just wanted to win the All-Ireland - we didn’t mind who we were playing. But the fact that we beat probably the best team in the game did make it extra special,” he acknowledges with a smile.
S P O R T Having played with some of his fellow county players at underage level, Brendan makes sure to stress the strong bond that exists between him and the other members. This, he maintains, has undoubtedly provided them with their formidable strength.
“I don’t play to win medals. I always want to improve, but any award is greatly appreciated” “There’s a group of us who have played together since under–14 so we know each other very well both on and off the field but the whole panel bonded very well over the past couple of years and that definitely made the unit stronger.” The GAA still brings communities together and Brendan’s home parish, Borrisoleigh, is by no means different. He seems gen-
uinely grateful for the support that the team have received. When asked how he feels about being the pride of the parish, I witness his only failure to date, his inability to take credit. “My club mate Paddy Stapleton was also on the team so it was great to experience the win with someone from your own club. The support we got from Borrisoleigh was brilliant and we owe them a lot.” Unwavering commitment to club and parish must take its toll and it’s fascinating that a young player such as Maher manages to balance both and doesn’t lose his enthusiasm for the game. “Clubs are very understanding, they know we can’t fit in everything so we try to train with them whenever we can and we are let off from the county coming up to club championship.” When asked if the game should become professional and the players paid for the work they do, Brendan gave a distinct “no” on the subject and made it clear that he doesn’t play for financial gain; he plays for the pure love of it. This, at times, means compromising his social life but Brendan reassures me that it isn’t a sacrifice, saying jokingly that “It’s a choice we make. It’s not as if we are locked up at the weekends.” Brendan kept tight-lipped on how the team propose to hold onto their All-Ireland for the second year but the grounded Borrisoleigh man did state that they were by no means over–confident and had to focus on the upcoming championship first. “We’re not thinking of anything like that. It’s a new year and every team is in with a shout of winning the Liam McCarthy so we’ll be looking to try our best and see where it takes us.” With a long list of achievements such as Brendan’s, there is the risk that a player of this calibre could become lazy in their approach to the game or indeed, become overwhelmed with pressure to live up to expectations. However, the primary school teacher has his head firmly screwed on and believes there is no room for complacency; the end result on the pitch is what matters most. “The All–Star was a great achievement to get. But I think every player would say that a celtic cross is the one you want to get and anything after that is a bonus. Any award you receive is special. I don’t play to win medals, I always want to improve whether I’m receiving awards or not but any award I get is greatly appreciated.” Being a Tipperary Senior and an All Star must have its perks, and one might expect that this young charmer would have received his fair share of female attention in the aftermath of the game but Brendan seems somewhat oblivious to the extent of it. “Well I spent the months after
Fact File Name: Brendan Maher Date of Birth: 5th January 1989 Place of birth: Borrisoleigh, County Tipperary Height: 5 ft 11 in Occupation: Primary school teacher Position: Left wing-back Honours: All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship Winner 2006/07 Munster Minor Hurling Championship Winner 2007 Munster Senior Hurling Championship Winner 2009 All-Ireland Under-21 Hurling Championship Winner 2010 Munster Under-21 Hurling Championship Winner 2010 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Winner 2010
the All-Ireland in Australia so I didn’t experience any of that! But I wouldn’t be complaining if I did get it.” However, he wasn’t quite as open when questioned on whether there was a lucky lady in his life currently, giving a smiling shrug and a brief “No comment.” Throughout this interview, Maher shows pride in his county, club, parish, family and his unquestionable dedication for the game. In one sentence, why does this rising star commit to the sport as much as he does? “Simple,” he says, “I just love playing the game.”