Godfather of Kilkenny hurling Fr Tommy Maher dies aged 92
A man before his time
It could be argued that Henry Shefflin would never have had the determined drive or known how to practice the skills that marked him out as one of the greats without the late Tommy Maher.
The priest led the county side for 18 years during which time they claimed seven All-Irelands titles from 1957 until 1975. He was not only a legendary coach on Noreside but is widely regarded as having developed the template for the game we know today. Maher's links to the modern day success enjoyed by Brian Cody include the Monsignor coaching the current Cats boss in 1975, his final All-Ireland triumph as a coach and Cody's maiden Celtic Cross.
Remarkably he only featured once for his county in Croke Park in an All-Ireland decider - the 1945 final defeat by Tipperary. Due to his role as a clergyman his playing time was limited but his knowledge of the game and his introduction of drills to practice skills were legendary. Maher's work in St Kieran's College, the cradle of Kilkenny hurling in the city and much of the county, meant he had a formative influence on generations of hurlers. Maher introduced what many GAA players recognise now as shuttle runs to improve speed while he also had a key focus on how to improve players leap in order to out-jump their opponents to the ball.
He sought to sharpen players skills with innovative drills for striking, catching, passing and doing everything quicker than their opponents. Kilkenny often felt before that their hurling could win them games alone. But as Gaelic football changed in the 1960s so did hurling with Maher at the forefront of changes in approach to training, physical preparation and tactics.
His legend was formed in his very first season as Kilkenny manager in 1957 when his side deposed the formidable Wexford side of the mid 1950s with a devastating Leinster win by 6-9 to 1-5. It was to usher in the era of Kilkenny finally getting to grips with their near neighbours supreme strength in the air, while under Maher the Cats also found a way to tactically defend against Cork's ground hurling.
He left the Kilkenny job in 1975 but continued his involvement at local level. He managed to combine his role as the parish priest in Mullinavat to also guide the local side to a county title in 1984 - 45 years after their last junior success success.
Maher spreads his hurling gospel through various coaching seminars in the 1960s while it is almost unthinkable to imagine the Brian Cody era of success without the incredible work and ethic laid down by the priest almost 50 years before. He spent his final years in a nursing home and died peacefully at Archersrath at the age of 92 on Wednesday evening.
Kilkenny journalist Enda McAvoy wrote a book about the priest and his impact on modern hurling. He was one of the first to pay tribute to the late trainer:
A sad day for Kilkenny hurling as a legend and visionary departs the stage. Monsignor Tommy Maher RIP.
— Enda McEvoy (@EndaEndamac95) March 25, 2015
— Philip Lanigan (@lanno10) March 25, 2015
— Helen Carroll (@MsHelenCarroll) March 26, 2015
Mgr Tommy Maher RIP, President 1973-'83 A true servant of here and Kilkenny hurling. May St Kieran welcome home a loyal friend #skcpastpupil
— St Kieran's College (@KieransCollege) March 25, 2015