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Meeting the Mahers of Kilsheelan

Sport

WORTH WAITING FOR Bill Maher, left and Tipperary captain Conor Sweeney, celebrate after winning the Munster Final last month. Pic: Sportsfile

Michael Commins


LITTLE wonder that they sing about Tipperary. I have always contended that it is the most musical sounding name of the 32 counties on the island of Ireland.
There’s a magical ring to it …..like Oklahoma and Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, Alabama and Montana.
When Leona Williams from Missouri (ex-wife of country legend Merle Haggard) gave me an idea for a song in Castlebar a few years ago, I sat down to write the lyrics four days later. 
The first line of the chorus reads: “Tipperary lies soft in my memory”. She recorded it a few months later.
Nor is it surprising that Johnny Cash mentioned the place in his famous song, The Forty Shades of Green… “But most of all I miss a girl in Tipperary Town”.
Down in the southeast of the county between Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir lies the lovely village of Kilsheelan.
It is impossible to pass through it without appreciating the pride of place the natives have in this beautifully presented village that each year is among the top three in the Tidy Towns competition in the county.
It is also home to Bill Maher who will line out in the half-back line with Tipperary when they play Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park on Sunday.
Bill is a quantity surveyor based in Dublin and one of the dual stars in Tipperary GAA over the last decade.
He was a member of the famous Tipperary team that won the All-Ireland Minor football final in 2011 when Colman Kennedy scored a sensational last-minute goal to defeat Dublin.
The following year in 2012, Bill captained the Tipperary minor hurlers to All Ireland glory over Dublin. Bill was also a member of the Tipperary Under-21 football team that captured Munster honours in 2015, defeated Dublin in the semi-final, before losing by a point to Tyrone in the final. (Dessie Farrell, the current Dublin manager, was in charge of the Dublin minor and Under-21 teams that lost to Tipperary in 2011 and 2015).
Michael Quinlivan, Evan Comerford, Colin O’Riordan, Stephen O’Brien, Bill Maher and Colman Kennedy are stalwarts of this special era which really began in 2011.
No-one should underestimate the quality of this team.
Bill plays with Kilsheelan-Kilcash, a club overlooked by the towering Slievenamon which stirs such loyal feelings in the hearts of Tipperary folk wherever they journey in life.
When passing through Kilsheelan a few years ago, I stopped off at Maher’s shop and Post Office, not realising that this was the home of Bill Maher. I had a lovely chat with his parents Ollie and Miriam and renewed acquaintances when I met them on the pitch after the Mayo- Tipperary qualifier game in Semple Stadium in Thurles in 2018.
Ollie is originally from up around the Mullinahone area (close to the Kilkenny border) and not far from Ballingarry, which for years was famous for its coalmine.
Tullaroan singer and songwriter, Paddy Fitzpatrick, has penned a lovely and haunting song about that era. One of the verses laments the closing of the mine and the ‘curse of emigration’.
‘The good times are all over
‘And the carefree days are gone
‘No more I’ll watch the misty rain
‘Sweep over Slievenamon.
Speaking to Ollie on Saturday night, he reflected on how the ending of the 85-year wait for a Munster senior football title gave a great lift to the county. “Our lads were confident going down to Cork. They have recorded a good few wins over Cork in the minor and under 21 grades in the last decade.
“It was a huge achievement on the weekend of the Bloody Sunday centenary commemorations, of which Tipperary football was such a central part, and the ceremonies to honour Michael Hogan from Grangemockler, a few miles from here, who was shot dead in Croke Park in 1920 when playing for Tipperary.
“I think Tipperary’s win brought joy to the whole country and not just here in Tipperary. We got a lovely letter here during the week from a Kerry historian who complimented the Tipperary team on playing ‘true old style football’ against Cork. That was truly special.”
The small village got a major commercial boost two years ago with the opening of the Blueway, a walking and cycle path along the banks of the River Suir from Clonmel down to Waterford.
“Like the Greenway in Mayo, it has been a God-send for Kilsheelan. We are less than 100 yards from the Waterford border. You cross the road and pass by the grotto and over the Suir bridge and you are in Waterford. There will be some excitement over there for the next two weeks after tonight’s win over Kilkenny as they prepare for the All-Ireland Final against Limerick!
“Looking forward to Sunday, I expect a very open game between Tipperary and Mayo as well. Mayo like attacking football too so it should be an enjoyable game and, whoever wins, I think a huge majority of the country will be supporting them in the All Ireland Final,” says Ollie.

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