FORGET about 2010. As far as Padraic Maher is concerned, a meeting with Kilkenny always promises to be a big test.
“They might be hurting a little after last year, but Kilkenny always give you a massive challenge whether it’s a league or championship game,” the Thurles Sarsfields man reckoned. “We’re going to have to meet that challenge head on. It’s only a case of throwing in the ball and letting the two teams at it. We can’t wait for it.”
Maher has been a strong part of the Tipp half-back line for the last few seasons, but even he has had to cope with a few bruising encounters with the Cats.
“Whenever you play Kilkenny it is such a physical game,” he said. “You only feel the hits the morning after the match as you’re so into what is a high intensity game at the time.
“The way Tipp and Kilkenny have gone at it in the last few years is the best way to play the game,” he added. “It has led to some matches which have been exciting to watch; getting to play in them is fantastic.
“Kilkenny will bring a special intensity to the game but that’s what we love,” he said. “You have to relish that challenge and drive on.”
Maher made it obvious that he believes Kilkenny pose a serious threat, but that was nothing new.
“Kilkenny are going to be driven,” he pointed. “They have shown over the last number of years how hungry they are. That’s what makes them such a good team, the way they can keep coming back year after year with the same appetite to win league titles and All-Irelands.
“People are saying that Kilkenny aren’t the team they were, but this year they’ve been in the League final, the Leinster final and now the All-Ireland final. They’re still a top class team. We have to come in and be as hungry as them. It took an awful lot to beat them last year – we know we’ll have to better that this time.”
However, Tipp aren’t that bad either, he reckoned.
“I think we’re a better team than we were last year. We’re more experienced; this will be our third time playing in a Croke Park final, while the younger lads have been well blooded there too.
“I think we’re a better team, but there’s definitely room for improvement,” was Maher’s view. “We’ll work on things in training and hopefully get the performance on the day. “Our goal at the start of the year was to get back to the All-Ireland final,” he said. “We’ve made it there, but none of the team, backroom staff or supporters will be happy unless we win it.”
And there’s no better motivation for the Tipp team than facing their old rivals.
“For a Tipp man a Kilkenny jersey brings the best out of us, but it’s the same way for them,” he said. “That’s what has made the games so spectacular in the last few years. It still comes down to the hard work that we’ve put in this year; we’ve felt both sides of the coin over the last two years. We don’t want to taste defeat like we did back in 2009 – it’s going to be all hands on deck to try and get the same success we had last year.”
However, Maher knows that Kilkenny will serve up a serious challenge.
“Kilkenny are going to be a hungrier team this year, not because they’re playing us but because last year they lost what they had won so often,” he said. “We need to match that intensity.
“It’ll be a fantastic game but a tough one at that – probably the hardest we’ve played as a group of players,” Maher finished. “We’ll relish the challenge; hopefully we’ll come out on top.”