Fully refreshed Ronan Maher looking to move on from Tipperary’s 2022 nightmare

The Tipp hurlers lost to Kerry for the first time and risked losing Munster championship status

It started with a first ever loss to Kerry and went progressively downhill from there. On and off the field, 2022 was Tipperary hurling’s annus horribilis.

Ronan Maher sits and reflects and barely knows where to begin. In the end, they were lucky to avoid a rematch with Kerry when their very Munster championship status would have been on the line. As it turned out, Kerry failed to win the Joe McDonagh Cup final and Tipp, who lost all four of their provincial group games, were off the hook.

Long before the summer solstice, their season was over though the mood only darkened with the mid-July sacking of manager Colm Bonner and, weeks later, the incomprehensible tragedy that was the death of team-mate Dillon Quirke.

Tipp captain Ronan Maher’s problems paled in comparison but a broken leg suffered in the first round of the county championship, which took longer than anticipated to heal, brought its own challenges.

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Truth be told, 2023 couldn’t come soon enough for the Thurles man.

“We set high standards in Tipperary and obviously we didn’t achieve any of them last year,” said Maher. “The crowds were probably getting smaller as the games went on. They were probably very frustrated with what they were seeing as well.”

Liam Cahill’s belated appointment as manager - he knocked Tipp back when they initially approached after the 2021 season - has restored some of the good vibes. They will play their first competitive game of the 2023 season on Tuesday evening against Waterford in Dungarvan in the Co-Op Superstores Munster Hurling League. Just as the Kerry defeat in that competition set the tone for 2022, so too can a big performance against Cahill’s old team lay a strong foundation for 2023.

All the indicators are that Tipp will hit the ground running. As far back as mid-November they announced a 40-man training panel that hit the training field shortly after.

On one weekend in December, they played Offaly and Dublin. “We played Kerry as well,” recalled Maher. “It’s good to get the games in early before you attack the Munster League and the Allianz League. It’s nice to get that base in to see where you’re at.”

When Maher won his two All-Irelands, in 2016 and 2019, he did so next to big brother Padraic in defence. These days he has to look across to the sideline to see his sibling, a new selector following his injury enforced retirement. Declan Laffan and TJ Ryan are selectors too, alongside coach/selector Mikey Bevans. Waterford great Tony Browne is the performance coach.

“He’ll be in and out, speaking to lads in patches but he’s really clever and tactics-wise he’s very good as well, so we’ll soak up all the information from him,” said Maher of Browne’s involvement. “They’re all really good lads, really experienced as well.”

Given how 2022 panned out, the players don’t need a huge amount of cajoling to dig deep.

“The performances were so flat,” conceded Maher. “We really have to knuckle down hard this year and attack the Championship as best we can and see where that takes us.”

Maher said he didn’t have much involvement in the heave against Bonnar, despite being captain.

“Ah no, listen, I didn’t really have much input or anything like that,” he said.

He did appreciate Bonnar’s efforts across the season, even if it all ended on such a sour note.

“I’d great time for Colm,” said Maher. “He took the job when probably nobody else wanted to take it and there was nobody else there. Obviously it didn’t turn out the way he probably wanted it to. He’s probably hugely disappointed but he was really good to us and we really appreciated him taking on the job and giving it everything he could.”

Given his background with successful Tipp minor and U-20/U-21 sides, the hope is that Cahill can harness all of that potential that exists in the senior panel now. Maher reports “a lot of new faces” at training and knows he has his own battle to regain full fitness and match sharpness after the leg break.

“It wasn’t a clean break unfortunately,” said Maher of the injury suffered while playing for Thurles Sarsfields against Borris-Ileigh in July. “It was a fracture in the fibula so I was out for longer than I thought. I originally thought it would be only about six weeks but I ended up being in the boot for seven and I wasn’t on the pitch for eight or nine weeks so it really delayed me.

“The other side of it was that it was refreshing to get a break from hurling for a while so it was nice to give the body a break as well. I’m fully refreshed now anyway.”