How do you replace the irreplaceable?
That's the question that Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy will have been tossing around his mind since Patrick 'Bonner' Maher limped out of their final Munster round-robin game against Limerick.
It was immediately apparent that the heartbeat of his team was in serious trouble and it didn’t take too long for the diagnosis to come through – serious cruciate ligament damage, season over.
Tipp take on Limerick in the Munster final at the LIT Gaelic Grounds today and changes in personnel are inevitable. The worry is that there may be an inevitable change in tempo too.
"You don't replace the Bonner. You can bring someone in, but you don’t replace the Bonner," noted Shane McGrath, who won an All-Ireland medal in 2010 alongside Maher.
Niall O’Meara and Dan McCormack, who came on for Maher after he was helped from the field the last day, are the likely contenders to take the vacant spot in the half-forward line.
O’Meara looked to be in great form in the win over Cork at the start of the summer before injury intervened while McCormack has performed admirably when called up. Both are capable hurlers.
Neither of them though will send that bolt of electricity through the stands that Bonner does when he comes onto the ball.
"When he gets the ball the crowd reacts, they get off their seats, because they know something is going to happen – he’ll score a point, create a goal, win a free," said McGrath, speaking to RTÉ Sport.
Maher turns 30 in October and he had been in the form of his life this season.
The Lorrha-Doorha man has the full set of inter-county All-Ireland medals, from minor (2007), through Under-21 (2010) to senior (’10 and ’16).
"We won Under-14 B with the club and he was only 11 – you could see his bravery, his courage and his will to win even then," said Ken Hogan.
Hogan is a Tipp legend having won All-Irelands in 1989 and ’91. He managed his clubmate Maher at underage with Lorrha-Dorrha and with the All-Ireland winning 2010 Tipp Under-21 team.
"We are up on the Offaly-Galway border and we’re not one of the prominent clubs so for him to play two years minor was some achievement," he said.
Bonner got his nickname as a youngster, throwing himself about in goals in the back garden, putting people in mind of former Ireland goalkeeper Packie Bonner.
His commitment is what makes him so popular with fans and in his home place he’s an unassuming folk hero. He is revered – and that’s not too strong a word for the feeling among this team mates - in the dressing room too.
"When you have courage and commitment, when you’re quiet and don’t look for the praise... He’s an unsung hero and that’s why people admire him, particularly his team mates," said Hogan.
Maher serves his country as well as his team-mates as a member of the Irish Army, though he did take a recent career break to study business management in DIT, and he served with the UN in Syria for six months.
His trademark early in his career was insatiable hunger for hard work on the pitch and direct running on the ball. In recent years he's added scoring and a deft touch. "People underestimate his hurling ability," said Hogan.
McGrath added: "He’s a one in a million player. The crowd loves his honesty. If it’s a 30 point game, up or down, Bonner is chasing a lad in the corner hooking and blocking and that’s how he measures his success in a game.
"He’s not a talker, he’s a doer and that’s why he has such respect.
"He might not say two words all year and then he'll say something. When he does you’ll hear a pin drop in the dressing room because it’s him who’s talking. The lads are thinking 'I’ll do whatever he says because I know he’ll back it up’.
"He’s a phenomenal trainer – if you ever look at a Tipp player profile in a match programme, the answer to hardest trainer is always Bonner Maher.
"He minds himself off the field; a massive treat for him would be having a McFlurry once in a blue moon. Everything is geared towards how to be the best hurler he can be for Tipp.
"Tipp would have been delighted beating Limerick and having four wins from four the last day, but I can guarantee you the dressing room was like after a big loss because of that injury."
Sheedy has taken the prudent step of making sure that Maher remains part of his panel for the season and he’ll have a part to play in whatever remaining matches Tipperary have in 2019.
If they win a trophy along the way, this Sunday or the All-Ireland in August, don’t be surprised if Bonner is one of the first up to lift it. He’d be happier standing in the shadows, of course, but his team mates will push him up there and it’s what the crowd will want to see.
Follow the Munster and Leinster hurling finals via our live blogs on RTÉ.ie/sport and the News Now app or listen to live national commentary on RTÉ Radio 1. You can watch live and exclusive TV coverage of Limerick v Tipperary (2pm) and Kilkenny v Wexford (4pm) on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player this Sunday.
On Saturday evening you can tune into RTÉ Radio 1 or RnaG for live coverage of all four All-Ireland SFC qualifier games which you can also follow via our live blogs on RTÉ.ie/sport and the News Now app.