'It works for us that it’s very calm, relaxed, and chilled out’

'It works for us that it’s very calm, relaxed, and chilled out’
Borris-Ileigh and Tipperary Hurler Dan McCormack is pictured ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling Championship Final where they face Ballyhale Shamrocks of Kilkenny on Sunday January 19th at Croke Park. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile.

Ask Dan McCormack to explain the breadth of Johnny Kelly’s influence with the Borris-Ileigh team that contests this weekend’s AIB All-Ireland Club Hurling final and the Tipperary player rattles off a litany of examples and areas.

Some are big, others small but still significant.

It was Kelly’s call to take the spin up to Croke Park last Saturday for a 20-minute familiarisation exercise.

There was no time allotted for a gawp at the museum or a few selfies from the stands. This was all business, a snappy 20-minute pitch session and back on the bus home.

That’s not rocket science. Ballyhale Shamrocks will be awash with players who have played at headquarters before so it was logical that the Tipperary champions should wash some of the giddiness McCormack had noticed last week from their systems before the big day.

That they are at this juncture at all is down in no small part to their Galway manager.

Borris-Ileigh were accustomed to little more than frustration until Kelly took charge. The county quarter-final was an all too familiar peak to their seasons but their new bainisteoir was accustomed to bigger and better things.

Kelly was part of the Portumna backroom when they won All-Irelands in 2006 and 2008 and he was the man in charge when the Galway club made it three titles in four years in 2009. There has been an Offaly senior with Coolderry and a Galway intermediate with Abbeyknockmoy too.

So what is it about Kelly that has brought such success to so many clubs?

“His big thing is he’s very organised,” says McCormack. “Puts a huge emphasis on having the team right, physically and mentally. Johnny himself would admit that’s he’s very lucky to have Angela Walsh there as his strength and conditioning coach.

We’re lucky in a sense that we’ve started the same fifteen from the county quarter-final. We’ve had no injury, which is very unusual for a club team to have. That’s unusual to have the same first fifteen six times on trot.

“He’s very good on the line, he’s very good tactically as well, pinpointing different things or different things you want to try. Very approachable if you want to talk to him about anything. He’s open to change. Open-minded.”

That last trait shouldn’t be underestimated.

Brendan Maher has explained how Borris has its fair share of “free spirits” that have slotted into the team and its way of doing things. McCormack makes the point that managing at club level is different — has to be different — to that at inter-county.

Borris have a handful of farmers on the panel and, that life being as it is, there is an understanding that there will be the odd time when one or two rock up 15 or 20 minutes late for training. The dressing-room in general is far more relaxed than a county version.

“A lot of club hurlers, especially that we have, it wouldn’t suit them if they were getting worked up and there was too much motivational speeches in the dressing room. It seems to work for us that it’s very calm, relaxed, and chilled out atmosphere.”

Maintaining that vibe as they drive into that tunnel under the Hogan Stand and look around them on the pre-match parade will be a challenge in itself. So too combating a Ballyhale side that is looking to add an eighth national title to their already record haul.

This will be the first ever All-Ireland club senior final between the Kilkenny and Tipperary champions and the unusual nature of that pairing will be echoed by the fact that Kelly and Ballyhale’s Michael Fennelly are coach and manager respectively of Offaly this year.

It’s not something the Borris players have mentioned all that much but it did do the rounds of the WhatsApp group.

“There was a photo of Johnny Kelly looking at his watch last Sunday, (Offaly) were playing Antrim, and the caption was, ‘How long till the club All-Ireland?’ Yeah, there’s always that little bit of banter but it wouldn’t be coming up too often, no.”

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