There are times when Paudie Maher needs hurling as a release. Life on the beat as a Garda can be a positive environment, but there are times when it tests you. It doesn’t take much to imagine the difficult situations you might walk into when wearing the uniform — people in desperate situations lives torn apart, the darkest times imaginable.
“Some days are tough,” says Maher, who is based in Limerick. “You could head in at 7am and God knows what is waiting for you. You could see the worst of things, weird things and horrific things. Stuff that people would not like to see, but that’s part and parcel of the job.”
“You arrive on a scene and the pressure is on, all eyes are on you. Unfortunately, there have been a few horrible ones, but you have no time to get caught up with that because you have to react and sort out any issues as best you can, and as quickly as you can. A few hours after, it can hit you — it’s tough when you see families in tough situations.”
Inter-county players put a huge deal into their sporting pursuits, and Maher places so much of his energy into Tipperary hurling. The seed grew for his enjoyment in the game at an early age, and there will always be that same pleasure in playing. So, when times are hard on the work front, it’s nice to have an outlet.
“It’s great to have hurling as a release,” says the three-time All-Ireland winner. “It allows you to switch off from work, and it’s something I need at times. You couldn’t be thinking about things all the time, day in and day out. Mentally, hurling is good that way.”
“I have a new role now where I’m a community guard in Moyross and I’m working a lot with kids,” he adds. “It’s very enjoyable. The people are nice and are good to me. The odd lads might have a smart comment to me about the hurling, especially when Limerick beat us in the Munster final, but they’re great. I came in with a right smile then after (beating Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final) last week.”
Maher considers Moyross more of a rugby area and says plenty of people wouldn’t pass notice on him, nor be aware that he has just added a third All-Ireland medal to his collection. The Thurles Sarsfields man is now 30 and has been on this blue and gold journey since 2009. A man marked out as one for the future from a young age, he truly announced himself when keeping Joe Canning scoreless from play in Tipp’s minor All-Ireland win of 2006.
Many moons since, he’s a grizzled veteran who has seen it all. His younger brother, Ronan, has joined him in the Premier County set-up and there’s an old saying that teams are built on brothers. Nowhere could that be more true than in the GAA — John and Noel McGrath, Michael and Colin Fennelly, Tommy and Padraig Walsh, the Ó Sés of Kerry, the O’Connor twins, and many more.
Ronan is seven years Paudie’s junior, and that gap in age can feel like a chasm when you’re younger. Has the relationship changed since the more youthful man became an adult?
“Not much,” says Paudie. “He wouldn’t come to me for advice on hurling anyway, he has always been his own man that way. He wants to experience it for himself.”
“We have probably gotten closer over the years since we started hurling on the same teams. There’s a seven-year gap there so we didn’t hurl together for the first time until he was maybe 17 when he got into the first team with Thurles Sarsfields. Then you’re going to training all the time and you get closer.”
“He was always one of the stronger players underage with Durlas Óg,” Paudie says of seeing Ronan as a future talent. “So, we had an idea, and since he came in we’ve seen what he can do. I think he has gotten better every year and it’s about consistency — your career doesn’t be long going in. The 11 seasons I’ve played senior have just flown by.”
Tipperary is a county where expectations are always up in the sky. For so many people there, life revolves around ash and ball, conversations across the length and breadth of the county are dominated by it, and it can be hard to escape it. When things go right and the Liam MacCarthy Cup makes its way back to the Premier, then all is well; should the team come up short, a shadow is cast across the county.
Maher and his teammates previously brought the title back in 2010 and in 2016, but they were unable to build on that success in the seasons just after. “Look, there is massive expectation there so when things are not going well, there is a fair bit of criticism,” says the 2016 Hurler of the Year nominee.
“In 2011 and in 2012, I took that to heart — but then you let it fade and realise it’s something that comes with the territory. Even with the social media side of things, it’s something you would experience. It doesn’t bog us down anymore, you just let the noise die down.
“I got rid of social media, Twitter and Facebook, so all I have now is Instagram. You end up seeing things that you don’t need to see. I’ve been off Facebook the last year or two and went off Twitter there during this year around the start of the championship. Even if you don’t follow certain accounts, there’s a good chance they’ll end up on your timeline, and I didn’t need that.”
The impact of social media has widely been spoken of in recent times, with increases in anxiety and depression being attributed to it. Maher says he doesn’t miss it: “Not really, it’s great for your head because you’re not looking at your phone as much. I would often be lying down in bed and on the phone for an hour or two without really knowing the time had passed by, or even doing that much on it. So yeah, it’s good for the head.”
Maher knows the lows and was delighted to reach the highs once more when Liam Sheedy’s charges beat Kilkenny by 14 points in the 2019 All-Ireland decider at Croke Park. A red card to Richie Hogan before the half-time break certainly changed the complexity of the game, as there was just a point between the teams at that stage.
For Maher, who gave a storming performance at wing-back, the final whistle was a moment to savour. “It was surreal because you’re there for about 30 seconds just wondering ‘is this after happening?’,” he says with a smile. “It was just amazing. That’s the moment you think about all the time, you’re after putting everything into it since we went back training on November 16 last year.”
“It’s unbelievable. You’re there with all the players and your family, and just trying to let it sink in. I was there with Ronan and my mother; we were all together. It was great for those few minutes.”
“In 2018, we were very flat and played well below-par,” he adds. “In Munster, we lost the first day against Limerick and had to play four weeks in a row, and never got going. It was very disappointing.
“We all knew how good Liam was when he came back,” says Maher of the manager’s second coming, after previously stepping down in 2010. “He got us in the right frame of mind and got an unbelievable backroom team behind him. We brought in a load of the Under-21s who won the All-Ireland last year and it gave it a freshness. We all put our shoulder to the wheel, and just tried to hit the standards that were set.
“So, it makes it all the sweeter that we have gotten back. It was very sweet to do it.”