Back when Borris-Illeigh were winning county titles in Tipp and supplying captains to the county, Seamus Quigley and the lads from Kiladangan would tip over and celebrate with them. Borris were royalty and Kiladangan could only imagine.
What would it be like to win a county senior title? What would it be like? This weekend, Kiladangan face Borris-Illeigh in the Tipperary senior final (Semple Stadium, 2.30pm Sunday), so they may find out. Three years ago, they made it to the same stage, only to lose to Thurles Sarsfields, but this year is different. For one thing, their intermediate side are in the county final as well (Littleton, 2.30pm tomorrow), so they’ll have two senior teams in Tipperary next year.
But that’s something to consider in 2020. The week of a county final brings its own pressures.
“We had already organised a fundraiser for last Sunday,” says club chairman, Quigley. “We set that up a few weeks ago, so that went ahead and we raised a good few bob.”
All bases have to be covered. If you’re not too sure of Kiladangan’s background, Quigley sketches it out: “Where we’re situated, we’re bound, on one side, by Lough Derg, and we have Nenagh town a few miles in the road.
“In terms of clubs, Nenagh Éire Óg are near us, a great club, and another great club in Kilruane McDonaghs; there’s Burgess: those are all great clubs we have a rivalry with.
“We’re basically trying to emulate what the likes of Nenagh and Kilruane McDonaghs and Borris-Illeigh have done over the years; we’ve never achieved a senior county title, so that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”
The rivalry with Borris-Illeigh has been honed over the seasons, he says. “Back the years, we’ve had many great clashes with the lads at all age levels, from U14 right up to U21. They have titles; they’ve fielded a lot of great players.
“I can remember myself, being over in Borris back in 1989, when Bobby Ryan was captain of Tipperary and brought back the Liam MacCarthy Cup, and 1987, when we ended the famine. They have a great tradition, and it’s not all great players of the past, either. Brendan Maher is probably the most consistent Tipperary hurler of the last few years and is always a great performer for Borris-Illeigh.”
How distant was the dream when they were admiring Bobby Ryan and his contemporaries?
“Well, we were a junior club 20 years ago. We had been intermediate, dropped down to junior, and got back to intermediate then, again.
“We won the North final in 2001 and in 2004 we won it again and went on then to win the All-Ireland intermediate club championship. That was a catalyst, in that it had a huge impact on the club, as a victory, and a lot of the lads who were playing, or involved, that day have gone on to become involved in the running of the club. Our current manager, Brian Lawlor, was on that team, as was selector James Flannery. Martin Nolan, whose father, Spike, was a great clubman here, is also involved, so they’re all very much part of the club’s history.”
That All-Ireland title — a dramatic injury-time defeat of Richie Power’s Carrickshock in Thurles — was the kind of victory that can energise a club for years to come. Quigley can trace even more direct lines between that 2005 victory and Sunday's team.
“There’s a picture knocking around with members of the club, at the moment, that shows some of the current players in the senior club squad, but the photograph shows them all at the homecoming for that All-Ireland club win.
“They were small kids, seven or eight years of age, and you can see them kneeling down on the stage and looking out, in awe, at the crowd.
That’s the sort of thing which gives kids of that age something to aspire to. Even recently, the Liam MacCarthy Cup came to the local schools, as did the Nowlan Cup for the U20 grade — we had won the North championship, so that cup went around as well — which was great.
Their contribution to two Tipperary All-Ireland-winning teams gave club officials pause. From the distant days of struggling at junior level, they had seven intercounty representatives to hand with the silverware. (Billy Seymour and Sean Hayes, from the U20 team, Darragh Egan, who was a senior selector, and senior panellists David Sweeney, Barry Hogan, Willie Connors and Alan Flynn).
Quigley adds: “And, of course, when the kids saw them all ... I asked from the stage how many of the kids would like to be up on the stage when their own time came around, and, of course, every hand shot up.
“Success breeds success and every club needs that, but we’d never have imagined that many players on the Tipperary panels.”
They’re hopeful they can build into the future incrementally, rather than relying on one dazzling underage team for success which ultimately proves fleeting.
“To remain successful, you need a couple of players to come along every year, and for the last few years we’ve been lucky enough to have that. That’s down to the work being done at underage level in the clubs and in the schools, where they have a great interest and it’s very well-looked-after.”
There’s no clearer proof of that than the prospect of two senior teams.
Quigley explains the background: “The way it works in Tipperary is that you have the Dan Breen Cup, which is senior A, if you like, and then the Seamus O’Riain Cup, which is senior B. There’s an intermediate competition, as well, but there are a lot of clubs in the senior division in north Tipperary, so the O’Riain Cup was created to give a bit more balance to the competition, particularly for senior clubs that might not be having success.
“Our neighbours, Burgess, won the O’Riain Cup last year, for instance, and went on and did very well in the senior championship, so they’ve made progress in that way.
For ourselves, winning the intermediate competition was very important to the club a few years ago, but then, in 2015, our junior A team won a county title. That team is now competing in the intermediate championship final.
Is that a surreal prospect for members of the club, going from junior status to double-senior?
“It’s a dream for the club, but we’re keeping a fairly low profile with it. We’re trying to keep the pressure off the players — there’s not a lot of bunting around the parish and we’re keeping it as calm as can be. We hadn’t been in a county final for a long time until we got there in 2016. We went over with great expectations, but didn’t perform on the day; there might have been pressure on a lot of the younger lads.
“We got the better of Borris-Illeigh in a North final recently, but we’re not paying much attention to that game; they had played extra-time in two games and had two young lads who’d played in a minor final the day before. It’s hard to beat a team twice in the one season; we’re conscious of all of that. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves at all. And it’s the same for the intermediates.
"They wouldn’t have been expected to get to the final, but they played very well to do so. Having said that, we played Sean Treacy’s last year and they beat us. It’s their first team; they’ll be coming with all guns blazing for us tomorrow. It’s fantastic to be in two county finals, but if we don’t win, then, at the end of the day, it’s not that much of a success.”