When the Tipperary Millennium Hurling team was selected over two decades ago, there was only one player chosen in what was then considered the modern era.
It was Nicky English, whose long career in the blue and gold ended in 1996, the Lattin-Cullen man placed at left front.
The Englishman was the county’s most decorated All Star with six awards, a tally which was later matched by Eoin Kelly and then Pádraic Maher.
News of Maher’s surprise retirement from the sport yesterday on medical advice due to a neck problem means he will not claim the record.
If the Tipperary Millennium team were revisited now, he would surely be in contention for a place, but where?
He’s played the majority of his throws for Tipperary at left half-back, but a fair share at centre-back and fullback as well, with his All Stars spread across the half-back line and the edge of the box.
Thus, Millennium full-back Tony Brennan and the trio of half-backs Jimmy Finn, Tony Wall and Tommy Doyle would each find their place under the threat of Maher.
New Tipperary manager Colm Bonnar, who won two All-Irelands alongside the Englishman, has been robbed of the chance to work with him but has no doubts about his place in the pantheon of greats from Tipp.
“The team I played for won a few All-Irelands, but did we have someone of that player’s caliber?” Bonnar wondered. “I doubt.
“I think he would have worked in our team, in a lot of teams, that’s how good he was.
“He had to develop his game to a more modern type as he grew. He was a huge man to grab him and fly him down the pitch or get out of tackles and hit him. But as the game developed, he was able to give that more thoughtful pass, so he had the smarts to change his game as needed.
“If you had to choose the best fullbacks who have represented Tipperary over the last 100 years, you could only name it.
“He’s got six All-Stars, which shows how much he’s valued by everyone. His club run, seven county medals, everything he’s done is out of this world.
“I wish he had been in the team I was with in 1989 and 1991, that’s for sure.”
Among Maher’s many qualities, his outfield ability stood out for Bonnar.
“He was such a leader, a warrior, he always stood up. He was a colossal man in terms of being under the high ball. His power under this high ball has always amazed me. I remember one of the games at the back where he was tagging Henry Shefflin, and he was just kicking the ball in the air for sport. What a skill that’s in the game.
“It’s probably one of the most exciting skills in the game in terms of being able to go up with a bunch of hurleys swinging left, right and center and connect with the grip.”
Jake Morris may only be 22, but he still enjoyed four seasons alongside Maher with Tipp. However, the most defining moment for him came a few years before he got his senior call-up.
Morris recalled: “I think the best memory I have of him is when we played minor All-Ireland in 2016 and sat in the Hogan Stand afterwards and Pádraic Maher nailed Joe Canning a shoulder on the line in front of us. I will never forget the crack, that shoulder that day.
“I was called up to Team Tipp in 2018 and I remember thinking to myself as an 18 year old that I better stay away from Padraic Maher or he’ll throw me over. the line. That was my fond memory of him. That shoulder, which was the turning point that day. There are many memories, he was such a good pitcher for Tipperary.
When Tipperary open their league campaign on April 17 against Waterford it will be the first time since the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final against the same opposition that Maher will not be in the starting squad, but Morris underlines the legacy which he left for him and others to follow.
“What people don’t know about him is the stuff off the pitch, the way he looked after himself and kept his body straight. I think he was probably the best at doing that d ‘after what I saw anyway.
“I remember watching him in 2010 and he was one of my big heroes and he still is. He gave Tipperary his all and he can hold his head high.
“The best thing we can do now is continue on his level of honesty and the way he treated the Tipperary shirt, and he can be happy with that.”
Get the latest sports headlines straight to your inbox by signing up for free email alerts