By: Andy Fogarty
Michael Maher had a distinguished hurling career winning 5 All-Ireland senior hurling medals with Tipperary and was a member of the great team of the sixties lining out at full-back. He is the only surviving member of that Tipperary full-back line which included the late John Doyle and Kieran Carey of whom the late John D Hickey famously named ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. Michael also won three senior county championships with his club Holycross-Ballycahill. On retiring from hurling Michael went on to become an outstanding administrator of the GAA serving as Chairman of the Tipperary County Board and also as Chairman of the Munster Council. He later became Chairman of Semple Stadium Management Committee and is currently Vice-President of the Tipperary County Board.
Michael enjoyed great success at club level in a career that spanned three decades. He won his first senior hurling championship medal in 1948 when Holycross–Ballycahill defeated Lorrha–Dorrha by 4-10 to 2-4 in the county final. He collected his second Tipperary senior hurling championship medal in 1951 when Holycross–Ballycahill easily defeated Clonoulty–Rossmore in the decider by 5-15 to 1-4. Again Hollycross-Ballycahill failed to retain their title and it was 1954 before the team reached another championship decider. A comprehensive 6-5 to 2-3 defeat of Roscrea gave Maher his third and final Tipperary senior hurling championship medal.
Michael first lined out for Tipperary in the minor grade in 1947. Tipperary defeated Waterford in the Munster Final and in the All–Ireland minor triumph over Galway , Michael was introduced midway through the match and collected a coveted All-Ireland medal following a 9-5 to 1-5 victory.
It was at senior level for Tipperary that Michael enjoyed tremendous success. Maher joined the Tipperary senior panel during the 1951-52 league campaign, and went on to win his first National Hurling League medal that year as New York were beaten in the final by 6-14 to 2-5. Over the next few years Maher became a regular member of the Tipperary team for league games, however, he had yet to enjoy a run in the championship. In spite of this, he added two more National Hurling League medals to his collection following defeats of Wexford in 1955 and Kilkenny in 1957. By this stage Michael had made his senior championship debut on 1 July 1956 in a 2-7 to 1-11 Munster semi-final defeat by Cork.
In 1958 Michael won his first Munster senior hurling championship medal following a 4-12 to 1-5 defeat of reigning champions Waterford. Tipperary defeated Galway in the All-Ireland decider on 7 September 1958. Liam Devaney, Donie Nealon and Larry Keane all scored goals for Tipperary in the first-half, while Tony Wall sent a seventy-yard free to the Galway net. Tipperary won the game by 4-9 to 2-5 giving Maher his first All-Ireland medal.
Michael won his fourth National League medal in 1959 following a 0-15 to 0-7 defeat of Waterford, however, Tipperary subsequently surrendered their provincial and All-Ireland crowns. Tipperary asserted their dominance in 1960 by retaining the National League title with a 2-15 to 3-8 defeat of Cork. It was Maher’s fifth winners’ medal in that competition. He later won a second Munster medal following a narrow 4-13 to 4-11 defeat of Cork in what has been described as the toughest game of hurling ever played. This victory allowed Tipperary to advance directly to an All-Ireland final meeting with Wexford on 4 September 1960. The game ended in remarkable circumstances as the crowd invaded the pitch with a minute to go, mistaking the referee’s whistle for the end of the game. When the crowd were finally moved off the pitch Tipperary continued playing with only twelve men, but Wexford won on a score line of 2-15 to 0-11. It was Maher’s first All-Ireland defeat.
1961 saw Michael collect a sixth National League medal following a 6-6 to 4-9 defeat of Waterford. He later added a third Munster medal to his collection, as old rivals Cork were beaten by 3-6 to 0-7. The absence of the All-Ireland semi-final allowed Tipperary to advance directly to the final itself, with Dublin providing the opposition on 3 September 1961. The game was a close run thing, however, Tipperary held on to win by 0-16 to 1-12. It was Michael’s second All-Ireland medal.
In 1962 Tipperary were still the kingpins of Munster. A 5-14 to 2-3 trouncing of Waterford in the decider gave Maher a fourth Munster medal. Tipperary faced, Wexford once again in the subsequent All-Ireland final on 2 September 1962. Wexford, however, got off to possibly the worst start ever by a team in a championship decider. After just ninety seconds the Leinster champions were down by two goals, however, the game turned out to be much closer than people expected. Tipperary eventually secured the win on a score line of 3-10 to 2-11, giving Maher a third All-Ireland medal.
After losing the following year’s Munster final to Waterford in one of the hurling shocks of the decade, Tipperary bounced back in 1964 with Michael collecting a seventh National League medal. Tipperary later defeated Cork by fourteen points in the provincial decider, giving Maher a fifth Munster medal. The All-Ireland final on 6 September 1964 saw Kilkenny against Tipperary. John ’’Mackey’’ McKenna scored Tipp’s first goal after ten minutes as the Munster champions took a 1-8 to 0-6 interval lead. The second half saw Tipperary score four more goals, with Donie Nealon getting a hat-trick and Sean McLoughlin another. Tipperary triumphed by 5-13 to 2-8. It was Maher’s fourth All-Ireland medal.
In 1965 Maher won an eighth and final National League medal as New York were narrowly defeated on an aggregate score of 6-19 to 5-20. Tipperary demolished all opposition in the provincial championship once again and a 4-11 to 0-5 trouncing of Cork gave Michael a sixth Munster medal. Wexford were Tipperary’s opponents in the subsequent All-Ireland final on 5 September 1965, however, the game failed to live up to the two classic games between the two sides in 1960 and 1962. Victory went to Tipperary by 2-16 to 0-10, courtesy of a brace of goals by Seán McLoughlin. The win gave Michael a fifth All-Ireland medal. Maher played his last game for Tipperary on 1 June 1966 in a shock defeat by Limerick. In all Michael made 30 senior appearances for Tipperary.
Michael Maher was first picked for the Munster inter-provincial team in 1958. He won his first Railway Cup medal that year following a 3-7 to 3-5 final defeat of Leinster. Maher was once again included on the provincial team in 1959. A 7-11 to 2-6 trouncing of Connacht gave him a second Railway Cup medal as Munster retained their crown. After a one-year absence Michael won his third Railway Cup medal in 1961 as Leinster were downed by 4-12 to 3-9. He won his fourth and final Railway Cup medal in 1963 following a narrow 2-8 to 2-7 defeat of Leinster.
• Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship (3): 1948, 1951, 1954
• All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (5): 1958, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965
• Munster Senior Hurling Championship (6): 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965
• National Hurling League (8): 1951–52, 1954–55, 1956–57, 1958–59, 1959–60, 1960–61, 1963–64, 1964–65
• All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship (1): 1947
• Munster Minor Hurling Championship (1): 1947
• Railway Cup (4): 1958, 1959, 1961, 1963