He’s something of a car nut, but Tipp’s Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher is itching to motor into Sundays’s high-octane All-Ireland final.
“It’s a great feeling to be looking forward to an All-Ireland final,” the flying forward said in the build-up to the big game.
“It’s something you build towards when you are young, playing in the front yard at home. It’s every child’s dream to go on and play in an All-Ireland final and I count myself lucky to be playing in another one.”
While Maher admits to feeling lucky to be playing an All-Ireland final, that’s as far as he goes with the idea of good fortune. It is no fluke that Tipp have reached the last lap in the race for the MacCarthy Cup - hard work and the pain of a poor 2013 campaign have spurred the Premier County side on this term.
“Last year we were disappointed but can’t dwell on the past,” he said. “You can’t have regrets, but you must learn lessons from the past.
“Last year wasn’t the best year I ever had in a county jersey,” he said, in a moment of self-analysis. “You could blame a lot of things but it was just an off year; people have them.
“It’s just one of those things that happen, everyone goes through a bad patch,” he added. “Last year was mine.”
That form has been erased in 2014, with Maher proving to be a driving force for Tipp. Being on the outside in 2013, when the country was enthralled by two riveting All-Ireland clashes between Clare and Cork was motivation enough.
“You always want to be there on All Ireland Final day, you have to be in that mind-set,” he said when asked what it was like to watch the 2013 final as a spectator.
“I want to be there every year because if you don’t have that you won’t be driven - you have to be driving towards something. Every inter-county player is driven towards getting to an All-Ireland final.
“Looking at last year’s championship final was tough, as was watching the replay. It was odd looking in at it because you want to be involved, but it can help towards gearing yourself up and giving it a lash for the next year.”
That motivation to get back to the final was never more tested than in the semi-final win over Cork, when Maher played on despite suffering a prematch rib injury.
“The ribs are 100% now,” he confirmed. “It was a light knock - a ‘freak’ injury I picked up in the warm-up. I just needed a few days off to recover.”
Playing through the pain barrier was proof that Maher was determined to help Tipp make another final.
“It was sore but I wanted to stay on as long as I could. When you are playing in an All-Ireland semi-final and you are winning you don’t really want to leave the field,” he said. “I just ground it out.
The knock meant Maher had to play a corner-forward role, but there was no way the mentors would have been able to get him to cry off.
“I was injured and wasn’t able to run. It’s the only reason I went in corner forward as I wasn’t going to be able to cover much ground out the field that’s why they moved me in.”
The positioning was a move away from his preferred centre-forward role, but Maher would play there again if asked. He would play wherever it was required.
“I don’t mind where I play once I get a jersey from 1 to 15, especially for an All-Ireland.”
Playing in that final may mean more to some people as Kilkenny are the opposition. Maher could see why some might look at the game that way but, for him, it’s a game between two rivals who help each other deliver their best.
“I approach every game the same,” he said. “I look forward to every game - the fact that we are playing Kilkenny is nothing extra to me.
Bring out the best
“People will say there is a rivalry there, maybe there is but it does heighten things a little bit. They bring the best out of us and we bring the best out of them as well.”
Talking about preparing for an All-Ireland final was a millions miles from how Maher and his colleagues felt after Limerick sent them crashing out of the Munster championship earlier this year.
“It was tough (losing to Limerick),” he said. “We were all gutted after it.
“The mood in the dressing room was very bad but we picked ourselves up. We said we could either dwell on the past, which is no good to anyone, or we could drive and start working harder.
“We have done that since the Limerick game. Every step along we just try to work as hard as we can and get the best performance out of ourselves.”
The players came in for criticism after losing to Limerick, but Maher didn’t read too much into what was being said outside the camp.
“I enjoy being a Tipp player,” he said, when asked if it was tough to be the hurling spotlight. “We have got a great unit there at the moment.
“When you put yourself out there, whether it’s playing GAA or any other sport you are open for criticism, but you have to take it.
“When results don’t go your way there is not much you can do about it,” he added. “You can only learn from it, you can’t dwell on the past or have regrets.”
While some people use work to get away from sport’s pressures, there’s no escape for Maher.
A soldier based in Galway’s Renmore Barracks, not only has he hurled on the Army team with Paul Murphy and Eoin Larkin, he has plenty more colleagues who are gripped by the game!
“I’m living in Galway so it’s grand to get a break away from all the talk in Tipp. I’ve also been able to do a training on my own with a few runners there, people who gave a lot of help to get quicker. I think it is standing to me.
“However, no matter where you go in Ireland you are going to bump into somebody who is going to talk GAA with you,” he said.
“The barracks in Galway is very hurling orientated,” he added. “We have Padraic Landers there who is on the Galway senior panel.
“Eoin Forde, who won an All-Ireland senior club medal with Clarinbridge, is stationed there too so once you go into the barracks the GAA talk takes over - there’s no getting away from it!”