‘I just remember thinking that was an awful crunch, there had to be something wrong’

IT WAS A moment that shifted the course of the hurling season for two counties and for one player it had a more profound impact.

It’s just under two months since that 18-second passage of play in Semple Stadium which saw Tipperary hit the post through Jake Morris, lose their grip on the game and subsequently bow out of the summer race, while Clare went upfield, found the net through Ian Galvin and used it as a springboard for a journey that only ended in last Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final replay.

And as both counties gathered their thoughts after their pulsating sequence of action, it was Tipperary’s All-Ireland winning captain Brendan Maher that was left nursing the greatest personal damage.

“Podge Collins was running through and he side-stepped me. I was running back from the number five position, he was coming from the opposite side. He side-stepped me. I went to plant my right leg and turn basically all in one movement.

“When I planted the foot, my knee just stayed going the opposite direction to where my body was trying to turn. It was literally just a twist of the knee.

“I gave it a bit of a kind of dislocation so I felt that happening. I’d never had anything like that before. I just remember thinking that was an awful crunch, there had to be something wrong. The pain was cruel for about two or three minutes. Once I got over that initial thing, it wasn’t too bad. It was swollen very quickly, the signs weren’t good initially.”

Six Point Swing! Jake Morris from Tipperary hits the post, Clare go down the field and score a fine goal through Ian Galvin. pic.twitter.com/dXb3nUQaJV

— The GAA (@officialgaa) June 10, 2018

By the following Tuesday, the confirmation came. Maher was the latest player to join the cruciate club and forced to sign up for a long, arduous spell of recovery. He went under the knife a couple of weeks ago and is now embarking on the road to rehabilitation.

It’s an odd situation to adjust to. Over the course of Maher’s 10 senior campaigns, he’s been involved five times on the showpiece day when the season has closed. Three other hurling years ended on the All-Ireland semi-final stage. 2013 concluded in the qualifiers in Nowlan Park in early July but generally Maher has been accustomed to journeying deep into the heart of a hurling summer.

Watching on as the 2018 season unfolded is one thing, having to cope with serious injury is another.

“My focus the week after the game was so different because I knew I was after suffering a serious injury. You’re going through the whole process of going getting the MRI, I was up in Santry the Wednesday morning. You’re wondering what’s going to happen, do I need surgery, all this is going through your head.

“It was almost like a week or two after that it sunk in with me that we were out of the championship. I won’t say it was a help but it was a different week for me than it was for the other lads because I had the injury.”

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Initially his knee consumed his thoughts and focus but as time went by, it became trickier to wrap his head around a lengthy period of inactivity.

“It was a huge challenge. I’d say I underestimated it. The first couple of weeks straight after it happened, I felt I got my head around it.

“As the weeks were going on, I found it tougher and tougher because you’re so used to being active in training and doing something every day. To go from that to literally being able to just walk gingerly. That’s where I’m at. It’s a huge change.

“I’m still probably facing another five or six weeks before I’ll be able to go for a jog. It’s a huge shift in mentality.

“I have been very lucky. A couple of broken bones but never anything that would rule me out. Timing wise, if I was to be selfish about it, at least I did get the four full games with Tipp.

“I haven’t missed anything with Tipp, I would hope to be back for probably maybe the end of February or March next year, that’d be my initial target to play some part towards the latter end of the league. But again I don’t know, I’m just going to wait and see what way it reacts now.”

Brendan Maher captained Tipperary to the 2016 All-Ireland senior hurling title.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

If there’s a sliver of consolation in the fact that he’s not sidelined for Tipperary marquee championship days, then the flipside is being reduced to a spectator for his club.

Last October was a breakthrough for Borris-Ileigh, ending a 29-year wait to grace county final day. Even if defeat against a dominant Thurles Sarsfields side was their lot, the hope was to push on in 2018. They’ll have to try to achieve that without their most decorated name.

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“It’s a shame now, I’m disgusted to be missing club stuff. It’s starting to hit me now that I’m missing the upcoming games. It was grand there for the last while, there was only league games on, training and that. You’re not really missing much.

“Last year was our first year with the new setup under Johnny Kelly. We’d a really good year, a really positive year. It didn’t finish too well for us with the county final but it was still huge progress for us. Not only me, but we’re down two guys, Niall Kenny and Ciaran Maher, are out for the rest of the season as well. We’re after being hit with three injuries.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge now over the next few weeks but the boys are doing well. All we can do is hope we get as good a year out of it as possible this year and try and get everyone fit for next year.”

Brendan Maher (right) in action in last year’s Tipperary county senior hurling final.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Maher is not alone in tackling a knee injury. Billy McCarthy was the biggest addition to the Tipperary ranks in 2018 but he faces an uncertain period after a severe knee problem incurred in a recent club game.

“Billy suffered a very, very serious injury,” says Maher.

“He had his operation there on Tuesday morning I think, on his ACL and his PCL. He’d to get a lot of work done to be honest now. His injury is very serious. It’s going to be a long road for him. He’s going to need a lot of support.

“He was a serious addition, unbelievable attitude towards it. It’s just a shame now after his first season that he’s facing into a huge challenge. I’d say hurling is probably the last thing on his mind now at the moment, he’s just trying to get through this.

“He’s one operation down, I think he’s another one to get. I think if he can get himself back in good health, he’ll be happy with that.”

Billy McCarthy made a breakthrough in Tipperary senior hurling ranks this year.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He’s well acquainted with the sides that will battle it out for the Liam MacCarthy Cup on Sunday week. Tipperary played out a trilogy of epic All-Ireland semi-finals with Galway between 2015 and 2017, while Limerick were the outfit that took them down on their first outing in May. Feelings of envy are natural at those currently in the spotlight.

“The last few weeks watching the semi-finals, it’s tough. You’d be looking on, going I’d love to be there. I’m sure every player is the same, when you’re looking on at opposing teams playing and you know that they’re playing for a chance to play in an All-Ireland final.

“You’d be so jealous of the Limerick and Galway lads now what they’re going through. We know what that’s like, the buzz going into training and the buzz around Limerick I’m sure is unbelievable.

“You’re just thinking I want that again. All we can do is knuckle down and get ourselves ready for next year but it’s a long while to wait.”

When Tipperary do emerge next season, they will be under the guidance of a new manager. In his role as selector and manager, Michael Ryan has been supervising the Tipperary hurlers for a large chunk of Maher’s career to date.

“It’s a pity Mick and his management team have decided to step down. They have given so much of their time and effort over the past three years. We can only thank them for that and wish them all the best for the future.”

Michael Ryan was in charge of Tipperary for three years.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Being part of two All-Ireland senior triumphs – bestowed with the honour of captain for one – a couple of All-Stars and a bunch of Munster medals, means Maher has already accumulated a stack of honours.

He’ll turn 30 in early January but miles on the clock have not dulled his enthusiasm for the game. There is no wavering in his belief about mounting a comeback.

“I would say yeah I’ve a lot of hurling done but this year physically I felt excellent and mentally the hunger is 100% there.

“I can’t see any reason in my head, I’m 100% sure I’ll recover fully from this and get back. Lads have done it before. Aron Shanagher came back in the last couple of weeks. I’m 29, I look after myself as much as I can, I think I’ll give myself the best chance I can to get back, I’m fairly confident of that.

“You look at the likes of Henry Shefflin and Bernard Brogan in their 30s doing it and coming back stronger. If you’re able to give the time to it and commit to the rehab, then you can. It’s not going to be easy, I’m not under-estimating it, but I’m confident I can do it. I’m focusing on getting right again and making sure I can be in a position to play next year. That’s my goal.”

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