Tipperary's Ronan Maher, a former Mary I student
Win, lose or draw on Sunday afternoon next, June 30 in the Munster Senior Hurling Championship final Tipperary defender Ronan Maher will be taking things handy in the aftermath. You see the Thurles Sarsfields man will be following in his older brother Pádraic's footsteps when he embarks upon a new career in An Garda Síochána. And, his first day in the Templemore Garda Training College will be on Monday morning next.
So, he will have to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as they say.
Ronan already has an arts degree from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick - he won Fitzgibbon Cups there too with the likes of current Treaty County stars Aaron Gillane, Darragh O'Donovan and Richie English - but his choice of career path into the Gardaí has been fashioned from a desire to have stability and routine in his life as much as anything else.
When asked if the big brother administered much advice in relation to the move Ronan Maher answered with a smile: “He wouldn't be one for long speeches. He just asked me if I was sure I wanted to go that route and left it at that”.
In many ways Ronan and Pádraic's careers have mirrored each other on the field of play as well. Both were into the senior set-up at club level with Sarfields while still minors. And, they both were drafted into the Tipp senior squad while still in their teens, having had a hat of county senior hurling medals in the bag. Indeed, both have moved about the pitch a bit too - Pádraic at full, centre and wing-back; Ronan at full, centre and wing-back, midfield and even centre-forward.
But, similar to his desire to settle in a career path, Ronan has found a settlement of sorts on the field of play too and he is now firmly-ensconced in the wing-back position alongside Pádraic - a role he is revelling in and relishes. They have swapped the number six and seven jerseys with regularity, in the both club and county colours and enjoy a bit of in-family banter about it as well.
“I am happier in the half-back line - that would be my preferred position and it has been nice to start a few games there in recent times,” Ronan Maher told the Tipperary Star.
“But you have to be flexible too and be prepared to go wherever a game takes you. Backs, in particular, must be prepared to move around so you can't afford to become too settled in a position because you just never know when you'll be called upon to go elsewhere,” he explained.
Already under the Liam Sheedy regime Ronan has operated in all five lines on the field, including at centre-forward against Limerick in the Munster League at Páirc na nGael back in December - that was the first game Limerick lost having won the 2018 All-Ireland final and Tipp have now followed that up with another victory over them in the championship. These results will count for little on Sunday though according to Ronan and he is really looking forward to the clash.
“The last game with Limerick was very physical and there was ferocious work rate. Limerick pride themselves on that and they will do the same in the Munster final again because they will be hurting at us having beaten them. There was a big build up to the game too and it really felt like Munster championship - nobody was leaving anything after them, that's for sure. We were well up for the game and we will be again on Sunday,” Ronan Maher said.
“We have gained some bit of confidence now with the wins behind us and you'd need it going down there because it is always a tough place to go. It might be a mental thing for them, but they will be hungry for the win against us in the Munster final and to have all three trophies together would be a major thing. So, there's going to be a right challenge for us and that's what we want. We are really looking forward to it,” he added.
At Mary Immaculate College Ronan Maher came under the influence of renowned Cork coach Jamie Wall who has been compared to Liam Sheedy in many circles. Wall, the current coach of Kilmallock in Limerick, was involved with the successful Fitzgibbon Cup winning teams, so Ronan got plenty of time to plug into his mantra. Sheedy was different though - Ronan had heard the talk about his reputation from times gone by and when he was announced as the new Tipp boss there was more than an element of excitement about the place. But did he seek the low down on Sheedy from Pádraic?
“No, Pádraic is a man of very few words when it comes to things like that. Obviously, I had heard the talk, but we had to find out for ourselves and we were just mad to get going when he came on board. He is a very inspirational man and he is someone that we all look up to. He doesn't miss a trick and he is a highly-organised leader. Our paths didn't really cross before this season, but the lads had spoken about how well he is able to gel a panel together. Training has been tough and the competition for places is huge so that brings its own intensity. And, at the same time, he is working on gelling the new lads from the under-21 panel, the older lads from 2008-10 and then the lads in the middle,” Ronan Maher explained.
This time last year Ronan was packing his bags for the US for eight weeks where he played with Tipperary in New York. It had been a very different experience for the Premier County with no championship victory from four games. But, looking back now, Ronan is glad of the experience of doing the New York thing, especially since his up-coming career in An Garda Síochána will put an end to such adventures.
Despite the disappointment of last year, he is a fan of the system and points to the chance of recovery as being a key to Tipperary's resurgence this season.
“We had focused hard on the first game against Cork because losing to Limerick last year in the first round was a real kick in the stomach,” admitted Ronan Maher.
“The breaks between games this year have been a big help in terms of getting the minds and bodies right for the next challenge and winning games is the only way to build confidence. Monday night after a game is all about recovery with a swim or a bit of cycling to get the legs going again before going back in to training on Tuesday. Then, when we had the two-week break, you got the chance to work on a few things which needed ironing out before winding down ahead of the next game. So, it gave us a chance, which we didn't have at all last year. You need to have a big squad to cope with all of the games,” Ronan Maher said.
While Ronan and Pádraic have turned in some fine performances in defence, they have watched the attacking players claim man of the match awards all season long. It doesn't bother them though - they are just happy to see the players firing up big scores.
“Ah the lads up front have been going really well. They are clocking up great scores and their awards are well deserved. But they know too that these things don't matter - it's about getting the results right,” Ronan Maher said before paying special tribute to the big brother.
“Pádraic is in the shape of his life at the moment - he is never too much out of shape to be fair, but he's in super form right now.”
The soon-to-be Garda is expecting an arresting time from the Limerick attack on Sunday. It's likely that Cian Lynch, Gearóid Hegarty and Graeme Mulcahy will come into the Limerick team with Ronan likely to lock horns with the gigantic Hegarty whom he will be hoping to handcuff. This is expected to be one of the major battles of a match which will be full of individual battles throughout the field.
Anyhow, come Monday morning Ronan will be reporting for duty in the Garda Training College and he will be hoping to follow in a long and distinguished line of Tipperary Garda hurlers hoping to win an All-Ireland senior medal. That list includes the likes of David Kennedy, Conor O'Brien, Ken Hogan, Joe Hayes, James Woodlock and many more.
We wish him well in his new career.