It’s the summer of 2016. Tipperary are playing Galway in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final. One of the game’s all-time greats, Joe Canning, is making a run up the line.

Enter Tipp defender Pádraic “Paudie” Maher. In what is a clean, but ferocious shoulder, Paudie sends the Tribesmen’s star sprawling out over the line. Such is the strength of the tackle, Paudie knocks himself over too. An amazing passage of play.

Tipp would go on to win the All-Ireland final that year.

This week Paudie retired from both intercounty and club hurling. Medical advice regarding a neck injury advised stepping away from contact sport.

When Irish Country Living spoke with Paudie just two weeks ago, retirement wasn’t on the cards. We discussed at length his desire to make the most of these last few years of intercounty hurling. He was enjoying it now more than ever, he said. You can take yourself too seriously in your early playing career, was the general consensus.

Paudie Maher in action last May in the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A Round 2 match between Tipperary and Cork at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. \ Sportsfile

As with everything in life, you never know what’s around the corner.

Announcing his retirement earlier this week, Paudie reflected on what playing intercounty hurling meant to him.

“Representing Tipperary has been my lifelong dream and I am truly honoured and privileged to have played for Tipperary for 13 seasons. I have made some truly great friends and met some great people.

“I have made memories that will stick with me for the rest of my days. While I truly wished this could have lasted a bit longer, I am glad that I can look back and know that I gave everything I had for the blue and gold jersey.

Paudie Maher announced his retirement on 1 February 2022.

“One of my highlights was getting to play with my brother Ronan. We have made memories that will last us a lifetime. I will be your biggest supporter now and will continue to follow your already remarkable career with excitement.”

Paudie will be remembered on the pitch as strong and tough, indelible in defense. His legacy as a Tipp hurler includes three All-Irelands and six All-Stars, as well as being a key player in a Tipp team that undoubtedly inspired another generation to pick up the hurley.

Hurling career

Making his intercounty hurling debut in 2009, in that first decade of his playing career, Paudie started every single one of Tipp’s 54 championship games, missing only 26 minutes of championship hurling in that time.

Chatting to Paudie you would hardly know the prestige in which he’s held in the GAA world. The Thurles Sarsfields’ clubman is humble and down-to-Earth. There’s no major fanfare. You’d get the impression Paudie’s talking was done on the pitch.

Growing up in Thurles, Paudie’s interest in GAA was first piqued by his parents.

Paudie credits the coaches in Dúrlas Óg, the juvenile club, and the schools in Thurles – where “it’s education number one, but the hurling comes straight in behind it” – as shaping him up to play at senior and intercounty levels.

As a child and teenager, Paudie says a lot of hurling skills are developed through just playing around.

“You could be coming home from school and you end up going out pucking the ball for two hours off a wall. Unknowns to yourself, you’re making yourself better and your interest is getting greater in it,” Paudie explains.

“Weekends and summer holidays, you’d be going to the pitch with your friends. You could give the day in the hurling pitch hitting balls around and over the bar. We were training ourselves and we didn’t even know it.

“That happens all over the country really, doesn’t it? It’s very important that you just don’t turn up once or twice a week and think it’s all going to happen miraculously. You have to put in the hours, don’t you?”

While hurling took up a lot of his time over the years, Paudie’s professional career is in the guards. He’s based in Limerick. In his earlier playing career, Paudie explains it was more difficult to balance his day job with intercountry hurling, but in latter years he developed a good routine.

When he first started playing with Tipp, Paudie says he thought it was as professional a set-up as you could get, but he can’t believe how the game has progressed in terms of professionalism now.

“Even back then, you would have said this can’t get any more professional than what it is. We thought we did everything, from the gym to nutrition, to the best of our capabilities. But the whole thing has just progressed every few years.

“It’s like semi-professional now at this stage. Everything is geared around training and geared around the next game. You wake up in the morning and everything is geared around what you should be eating. The whole lot is getting more professional, you’d wonder when is the bar not going to be risen anymore?”

To the Tipperary team, I wish you all the best for the year ahead

As a hurler, Paudie will be a remembered as a force in the GAA generation that rose the bar. While his exploits on the pitch may be over, as he says himself, Tipperary hurling will always be a part of his life.

“To the Tipperary team, I wish you all the best for the year ahead and I look forward to following you all over the country in what I hope will be a successful one for you all. I’ll be your biggest supporter.”

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