The wheel turning again for Tipp side Borris-Ileigh

’The cock will be there Sunday,” confirms Borris-Ileigh chairman Mark Stapleton. “It’s a tradition and the older generation want to keep it.”

Borris-Ileigh midfielder Brendan Maher. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Tipperary SHC final - Borris-Ileigh v Thurles Sarsfields

  • Semple Stadium
  • Tomorrow, 3.30pm, TG4

The late Ned Harty is no longer available for duty so Joe ‘Fudge’ Kennedy will parade the cock in Semple Stadium before Borris face Thurles Sarsfields tomorrow.

“It’s done for every county final. When we won the U16 25 years ago, the cock was there.”

A colourful custom is almost forgotten. The club symbol hasn’t strutted on Tipp’s biggest stage since 1988. It’s three long decades since Borris-Ileigh ruled the roost.

Nothing to crow about 29 years ago — they lost that final as emerging force Lough
more-Castleiney took their first title in a replay.

But the 80s gave Borris-Ileigh their fair share. Three counties (‘81, ‘83, ‘86), a Munster club and All-Ireland coronation in ‘87.

They supplied verve and flair to the blue and gold: The force of Bobby Ryan’s nature, the dash of Aidan, the leadership and panache of Richard and Conor Stakelum. Others like Gerry Stapleton, Philip Kenny, John McGrath. Old stagers like Noel O’Dwyer still toured their know-how around the club scene.

And then, it was over. The wheel turned. And the wait began.

Philip Kenny, who slotted six points in their last county win in ‘86 — over then All-Ireland champions Kilruane MacDonagh’s — was there for the end of one famine and the start of another.

Part of the Tipp panel on that emotional Munster final replay afternoon in Killarney in 1987 when clubmate Richard Stakelum gave voice to deliverance, Philip left for London after Galway won a thrilling All-Ireland semi-final.

“My wife was a nurse. Nursing jobs were scarce and she got a job over there. We went for four years.

“Richard Stakelum moved away, went to Kilmacud Crokes. Francis Collins went to Australia. Noel O’Dwyer was nearly 40. A lot of the team were the wrong side of 30. They all went at the one time. There was a big hole.”

His father Phil ‘Phibby’ Kenny and uncles Sean and Paddy all won All-Irelands with the county, but Philip was exiled for Tipp’s titles in ‘89 and ‘91.

But it is an unpredictable alchemy; the mysteries of breeding and draw of home that turn the wheel of club fortunes.

“My young lads say that to me now. ‘Would you have done anything different? Why didn’t you stay around?’

“I say to them, if I stayed around, ye wouldn’t be here today.”

The Kennys came back to settle in Celbridge, where sons Conor and Niall were wanted for Lilywhite football duty as well as shining at their first love. Both of them were asked in with Kildare minors and U21 footballers, but they just wanted to play hurling. Conor had enough of hurling not getting the respect it deserved. He knew a good few of the Borris lads, who were always asking him to join.And eventually he made the move.”

The Kennys came home.’The two Kennys coming was a huge help. Big strong men, well able to hurl,” says Mick Ryan.

’The two Kennys coming was a huge help. Big strong men, well able to hurl,” says Mick Ryan.

Mick is the last Borris man to lift the Dan Breen Cup and the last Tipperary man to hoist the Tommy Moore Cup, an honour he is reminded of every year whenever Tipp’s representatives bow out of All-Ireland club contention.

“We won the All-Ireland and the county A U21 title the same year. You’d think we were set up for 10 years.”

They weren’t. And doubtless the search for reasons has kept many a club meeting going into the small hours.

But Mick is not inclined to over-complicate things.

“It wasn’t down to lack of effort. I hate saying it, but maybe we just weren’t good enough.

“A major issue was the problem of Toomevara. They came to the fore. That was probably the biggest issue. They beat us several times, with an outstanding crop of players.

“All through the 90s we had a decent team but just weren’t able to beat Toome full-stop. They were there for the bones of 20 years.”

From this distance, it’s easier to weigh the heft of their own glories.

“It slips by so fast. You don’t realise the significance. Maybe we didn’t appreciate it as much as we should have.

“Nothing else really matters in Borrisoleigh other than hurling. Borris isn’t unique in that respect. There’s plenty of places like it. But Borris is one of them anyway. Has always been that way.

“There’s times of the year when you could be at a match every night of the week.”

Mick is at all of them, stuck in various underage teams, pulling away at the wheel.

This week, the U11s won the North Tipp A title. Earlier this summer, the U12s won the club’s first at the A grade.

It was also the first year they fielded two U12 teams. The feats of Brendan Maher, Paddy Stapleton and Dan McCormack with the county have put a hurley in every small hand.

“The lads are excellent,” says Mark Stapleton, who takes the U12s. “They’re always pucking in the park. Paddy Stapleton (no relation) is outstanding. You see him the last night after the U11 match, there pucking with the young lads. It’s priceless and invaluable.”

With that stellar spine, they ought to have been shorter than 40/1 for the senior title at the start of the year. But standards had drifted and the place needed a reboot. One of those meetings was had.

Johnny Kelly of Portumna All-Ireland-winning renown took over as coach. Local S&C guru Angelo Walsh oversaw them in the gym, and Philip Kenny, back living locally, came on board as selector with former Tipp and Borris players Philip Maher and John McGrath.

And gone from the county set-up this year, Paddy Stapleton became captain and could devote his redoubtable drive to one cause.

“You have him at training all the time. And for league matches. It lifts everyone,” Kenny says.

“My own son Conor as well, who was in with Tipp last year but not this year. It’s a huge help. You win a few league matches and momentum builds.

“Paddy would be vocal enough. He’s nearly an extension of the management team. If guys weren’t putting it in, he wouldn’t be long about telling them. He’d be ringing lads and cajoling them.”

Borris momentum has taken down fancied Loughmore-Castleiney and Drom-Inch. But the kingpins still stand, a marvellous Thurles team seeking four in a row.

In a powerful speech after the North Tipp final win over Éire Óg Nenagh, Stapleton touched on other kinds of alchemy that can turn the wheel; tradition and inspiration.

“Liam Devaney is above looking down on us today and I’d say he might have tipped a few balls off the line in that second half.”

The much-loved ‘Billy’ Devaney’s death, in August, bound generations of Borris people in sorrow and pride.

Holder of five All-Ireland medals and one county, he was revered too for sticking with Borris through lean times while he lived in Thurles and had great Sarsfields teams knocking for his services.

At his burial, Timmy Delaney, who was on the 1987 All-Ireland winning panel, delivered a place’s thanks.

“A Borris man from his first breath to his last, he loved the place of his birth, its people, its fields and hills, its streets. His memories of old Borris, his personal heritage of hurling greatness from his father Jim, his fondness of old neighbours and friends, forged in him a massive sense of place and a great pride in Borris.”

“People admired that enormously. A Borris man, full-stop,” says Mick Ryan.

Do it in his memory? “I should hope so.”

“There was a huge outpouring of emotion,” says Philip Kenny. “And it has been mentioned in dressing rooms before matches, before we go out.”

“There is pride. If you drive through Borris now, it’s nearly a danger, the amount of flags that are hanging out through windows, everywhere. That’ll tell you how much it means.”

The wheel turns. Unpredictable and mysterious. Liam Devaney’s grandson Archie was goalkeeper and captain on the Borris-Ileigh U12 team that made history this year.

Above, looking down, they hope Billy will have more to crow about yet.

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