'People are finding it hard. We see a lot of these issues in work and it does broaden your mind'

Tipperary’s Pádraic Maher on life as a Garda through the Covid-19 crisis and his excitement for the inter-county championship.

REFRESHED AND REINVIGORATED when it comes to his hurling anyway, Tipperary star Pádraic Maher couldn’t be more excited for the big championship throw-in.

ganzee-gaa-official-lifestyle-collection Pádraic Maher launching the Ganzee GAA Official Lifestyle Collection. Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

But when he pulls on the beloved blue and gold jersey and enters the inter-county arena competitively for the first time since March, the three-time All-Ireland winner will be playing with a real sense of perspective.

He’s touched on this in the past while outlining his work as a member of An Garda Síochána in Limerick, but the events of the past few months through the Covid-19 crisis — both on the frontline and away from it — have really hit home.

“It’s been strange,” Maher begins, a little over a year on from Tipp were crowned All-Ireland champions, though it feels like a decade ago. “Very strange times. Very weird times, like for everyone else.”

With the All-Ireland senior championship set to get underway this weekend, all going to plan, the six-time All-Star winner is relishing what lies ahead after weeks of debate and “one or two question marks” about whether or not inter-county GAA should proceed as restrictions heighten on these shores.

“Personally, I can’t wait. I’m personally looking forward to it. Facing into a winter of just going to work, coming home and lockdown, it would be tough going. For me, I find it hard. It’s great to have something to look forward to, something to aim for.

“It was a great relief being able to go training there on a Tuesday and Friday with the lads. It breaks up the whole situation that we’re in at the moment.

“Hopefully it gives everyone something to cheer about and can be something for people to talk about, something to look at and keep minds off other matters that are going on around us.

“It’s going to be strange with no supporters and that but us as players just have to get on with it. It’s going to mean as much to us as if there were people there. At the end of the day, we’re getting the opportunity to represent our counties. The way things are at the moment, we are very, very grateful for that.”

While hurling has come and gone over the past few months, one constant for Maher has been work. Stationed in Mayorstone Garda Station in Limerick, his and his colleague’s daily duties as members of the force have increased significantly through the pandemic.

From checkpoints and posts to house visits to the elderly and vulnerable, a lot of extra work has to be tended to. And now, with talk of on-the-spot fines coming in for breaking restrictions, it’s about to get even busier.

“From day one of lockdown back in March, we have been flat out. It’s been strange. I suppose things kind of eased there during the summer a bit, there was a small bit more more normality, but we’re back to where we were now again. Look, it’s very busy. In ways that’s good for us, it keeps the head occupied and keeps the mind occupied.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people do be frustrated and are getting frustrated in general, and you can’t blame them. They’re being deprived maybe of certain things in their lives, like not meeting people, family, friends. The social aspect of their lives is taken away from them.

“It’s tough on everyone, but we just have to try and be there and help people in the community as best as we can. Look, there’s a great sense of fulfillment too of trying to help people and the elderly people through these tough times.

“A lot of elderly people wouldn’t have even seen these kind of times before so we’re there to help them as best we can. All we can do is our best. Everyone can just try and be as safe as they can and see what happens. It’s tough times, strange times but they’re busy and I suppose being busy is a good thing too.”

While there once was a time when Maher would immerse himself completely in hurling, his relationship with his sport has changed significantly through the years — and that’s thanks to the job.

Screenshot 2020-10-22 at 17.04.41 Maher has been working as a Garda in Limerick for some time now. Source: RTÉ Sport.

Yes, he’s certainly appreciative of hurling — and that appreciation has surely grown over the past few months as absence made the heart grow fonder — but it’s not the be all and end all anymore. That sense of perspective also heightened this year.

“We get awfully bogged down and upset over hurling matches, whether you played poor, whether you’re losing matches or winning games,” he explains. “You can take things for granted.

“I’ve certainly seen over the last seven or eight months, there are a lot more important issues in life; when you see people losing family members to sicknesses, people with mental health issues during these tough times. People are finding it hard.

“We do see a lot of these issues in work and it does broaden your mind and for me, I just look at it in terms of I’m getting a great opportunity to play the game I love playing, to play for the county I love representing and it’s great.

“I’m just going to enjoy it and make the most of it because at the end of the day, when the final whistle goes — you’re obviously going to be down and out if you lose a game or on the high of winning a game — life goes on and a lot of people are struggling. It’s opening my mind and my job is to try and help people as best we can.

“Sport it just a small part of that, and it does mean a lot to us, but there are more pressing issues in life and my job has opened my eyes to all that.”

That said, the opportunity to play at all this year is one he will grab with both hands.

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On the road with the Premier county a long time now, the Thurles Sarsfields defender feels the break from inter-county has helped, as he took advantage of the extra time to recharge the batteries and take stock before going again.

“There were a couple of positives from it,” he nods. “It’s great for the mind and the body to recharge. I know I got one or two things sorted out with my own body while I had the opportunity, things I wouldn’t have been able to do if things were normal.

padraic-maher Maher lining out for Tipp earlier this year. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“It’s getting harder every year, to be honest, for the last number of years.

“I feel great now, mentally and physically. I don’t think I feel 21 again, but mentally I might feel that bit closer to it anyway! It’s given me a sense of enjoyment, excitement and energy towards playing again. Hopefully it will keep me going for a small bit longer anyway.”

Like hurling fans across the country, Maher will be watching the highly-anticipated clash of Clare and Limerick in Thurles on Saturday evening from afar with a keen eye. Of course, Liam Sheedy’s side face the winner in the Munster semi-final on Sunday week.

It’s been a long few months without inter-county action, and getting back to it will be huge. And most people will be keeping close tabs on Tipperary, as they look to retain the Liam McCarthy Cup.

While that’s not something he’s focusing on right now, Maher has heard talk of silverware being devalued in 2020 and winners left with an asterisk beside their name in this shortened season. He certainly doesn’t buy that.

“It’s going to mean as much if not more,” he concluded. “At the end of the day, whoever manages to win a Munster final, Leinster final, All-Ireland final in 2020, it’ll go down in history books as you won it and it’s not going to be devalued that way.

“Look, I’d love the opportunity to see what it’s like if you do win it, having no supporters or the obvious celebrations. At the end of the day, to have that down beside your name in 2020, it would still be as good of a feeling as it would be any other year.”

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Emma Duffy

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