Munster final has all the ingredients for battle royale

Munster final has all the ingredients for battle royale
Borris-Ileigh’s Brendan Maher and Ballygunner’s Shane O’Sullivan ahead of their Munster SHC final clash at Páirc Uí Rinn tomorrow. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

The last time Borris-Ileigh played a Munster club final, back in 1986, the match nearly cost me a suspension from the Clare soccer league.

I was supposed to play a Munster Youths game against South Tipperary that afternoon, but I skipped the match because Borris were playing Clarecastle in the Gaelic Grounds.

There was never a contest as to which game I was going to, but the soccer team management weren’t impressed when I only gave them an hour’s notice of my intended absence.

Luckily, my club — Turnpike Rovers — were able to pull a stroke and I got back for the following season.

You don’t really remember soccer or hurling games in November, but you’ll always remember a Munster final, especially when your own club is involved.

And that 1986 final is still vividly burned into my memory, for a number of reasons.

For a start, Clarecastle gave away too many frees and Noel O’Dwyer punished us every time. He ended up 0-10, which was a fair haul for a free-taker back then.

We got a goal halfway through the second half to try to rescue the match, but we just couldn’t hunt Borris-Ileigh down.

Many of the images in my head are pretty still grainy, but the sense of being beaten by a better team was easier for us in Clarecastle to accept when Borris went on to win the All-Ireland.

That was a serious Borris-Ileigh team. They had won three Tipperary championships between 1981-86. Borris had narrowly lost the 1983 Munster final to Midleton before making up for that disappointment three years later, and then putting the cherry on top of the cake with their All-Ireland title.

The club disappeared afterwards, not winning a championship again until last month, but tradition has a powerful way of teaching history.

Glen Rovers may have been the best draw possible for Borris-Ileigh, considering they were probably demotivated after losing the Cork county final.

Yet it would still have been easy for Borris-Ileigh to go on an unmerciful bender after winning a first county final in 33 years, and not get too hung up on a Munster club semi-final the following Sunday.

Tradition though, doesn’t grant that kind of an allowance or dispensation.

The famous cock still clearly did the rounds of all the pubs in the village early in the week, but Borris-Ileigh still came out and delivered a thunderous display for the first 45 minutes.

The celebrations may have taken a toll in the last quarter when the Glen charged at them, but the Tipperary champions held on.

That’s the way to win those games, and Borris-Ileigh will take huge confidence from the manner of their last two performances.

They’ll love Páirc Uí Rinn too, because it will play into the hands of suit their big men — Brendan Maher, Paddy Stapleton and Dan McCormack.

I’ve seen lads giving out on social media about this match being staged in Páirc Uí Rinn, which I can’t for the life of me understand.

I saw one fella say that Clonmel would have been the ideal neutral venue. Come on — this is a Munster final.

Lads seem to be giving out about traffic congestion, and that this game should have been played in Thurles or Limerick. Why?

It makes no sense to drag both teams up to the Gaelic Grounds, while you could nearly puck a ball from Borris-Ileigh into Thurles.

Much and all as Ballygunner might like playing in Semple Stadium, because it suits their team, they’re not that gullible to hand over such an advantage to the Tipperary champions.

There will be a fantastic atmosphere in Cork tomorrow. I played a Munster club final in Thurles in 1997 and, while it was brilliant to win it there, the occasion was a little diluted because the crowd was lost in Semple Stadium.

The crowds are a lot smaller going to matches now than they were back then, and I think Páirc Uí Rinn is ideally suited to such an occasion.

It’s a nice hike from my place in west Clare but I don’t care mind — I’m really looking forward to that buzz down there now for this match.

The pitch is always in good nick and I think we’re in for a cracker. Ballygunner are firmly entitled to be deemed favourites, but they’ll get enough of it off Borris-Ileigh, who will feed off their tradition in this competition.

Ballygunner will still look to their strengths, and they should have enough of them to pull through. Their half-back line was a huge platform against Patrickswell and they’ll probably go with the same line-up again.

Philip Mahony is their anchor, but Barry Coughlan has been rejuvenated at wing-back, and Ballygunner will surely want Shane O’Sullivan — who was selected on the other wing against Patrickswell to do a job on Aaron Gillane — toremain at in the half-back again tomorrow. Especially when Borris-Ileigh have so many ball-winners in that sector.

That set-up would also allow Ballygunner to bring Paddy Leamy out from corner-forward, let him drift around midfield, and leave Conor Sheahan free for a man-marking role on Dan McCormack, similar to what he did against Cian Lynch.

Sheahan may also play more of a link role, too — but either way, Ballygunner will leave Peter Hogan and Dessie Hutchinson inside as their twin threat.

Hogan had a quiet game against Patrickswell by his standards, but Paddy Stapleton will have his hands full trying to tie down Hogan or Hutchinson.

The latter’s return from a soccer career in England has been a massive boost, but the most emphatic endorsement of Ballygunner’s powerful production line was the display of young Mikey Mahony against Patrickswell.

With Pauric Mahony pulling the strings, and Barry O’Sullivan their best player against the ’Well, Ballygunner will fancy their chances of putting up another big score.

How Borris handle Pauric Mahony will have really exercised their minds because, while they’ll want Brendan Maher sitting and dominating, they can’t afford to let Pauric drift and cause rack in the process.

Patrickswell tried a similar tactic on Pauric with Diarmuid Byrnes, but the trade-off didn’t work.

If Borris-Ileigh bring back Kieran Maher as an extra defender, or shove Tommy Ryan back from midfield to sit on Pauric, the main thrust of those tactics will be to try and free up Brendan.

Both teams will be conscious of crowding the middle third in Páirc Uí Rinn because, as we saw in the Leinster semi-final between St Mullin’s and Rathdowney-Errill in Dr Cullen Park last Sunday, scores from distance can be critical in deciding games on tighter pitches.

Ballygunner have all the experience, with this being their fourth final in five seasons, but the bottom line for them is that this is still only a stepping stone away from to where they need to get to — Croke Park on All-Ireland final day.

Ballygunner won’t be thinking in that way but, for a club with a poor record in Munster finals, that can bring its own burdens, especially against a club with a winning tradition at this stage of the competition.

I’d still fancy Ballygunner, but what I do expect is a Battle Royale.

For anyone who is thinking about going, but putting it off because the match is on in Cork, all I’d say is don’t be worried about getting caught in traffic for 20 extra minutes.

The winter is long enough. Just go down and enjoy yourself.

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