Everywhere you turned after yesterday’s Munster final, Borris-Ileigh players were articulating their admiration for manager Johnny Kelly.
Hailed as having revolutionised the club, Kelly baulked at the offer of such praise. A great day for him?
“Not for me, for Borris-Ileigh, feck sake, Borris-Ileigh all the way. It’s not about the managers, it’s about the players, they were excellent today, heroic.”
He didn’t have to look too far to redirect the acclaim. Brendan Maher astounded him. “You can talk about the Johnny Kellys and the Davy Fitzgeralds and all the people you like on the sideline but, unless you have men of that quality and prepared to do that, you can do very little. Once they cross that white line and get on that pitch, that’s where the war is fought and the games are won.”
Asked about Maher’s wonder point in the 47th minute when he cut through the nonsense of a ruck to take the ball on the run and point from close to the sideline, Paddy Stapleton admitted Maher often doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
“I suppose we kind of needed someone to pull something out of the bag that was extraordinary and sure look, we take him for granted sometimes in Borris and in Tipperary. But he’s always there on the big occasion and he loves it and he always brings his best for Borris too.”
Last week, Kelly and Maher transmitted contrasting messages. For Maher, Borris-Ileigh were in bonus territory whereas Kelly wouldn’t hear any of that. What they did agree on, though, was how unfancied the club were going into the game and Kelly believed the onus on Ballygunner was telling.
“We were rank outsiders here, something we couldn’t do anything about, but we believed completely in ourselves. That adds pressure to the guys too, I remember in Portumna, we had won All-Irelands but it didn’t get any easier. Even though we were experienced, there were games where we went out and felt the pressure as well.
“Ballygunner maybe said to themselves that they’d like to put us away but we stayed in the game and kept the fight up and got there in the end. We were very lucky. To be fair to Ballygunner, they had some great moments in that game and never gave in either. That (Barry O’Sullivan) goal that they got, it was brilliantly taken, but we had the wherewithal to come back down the field and get a couple of points.”
For the parish of Borris-Ileigh, it’s been a difficult couple of years as it has had to endure several tragedies. In claiming county and provincial titles against the odds on both occasions, what Kelly and the team have provided these last few weeks has been much-needed solace. “There are two sides to Borris-Ileigh. There have been these desperate tragedies that have happened and that remains there and will always remain there.
“There’s nothing we can do on a hurling field that would ever take away that pain but, then, on the other side, to do what they did on a sportsfield makes it even more heroic.”
The new All-Ireland semi-final date means the Christmas celebrations may have to be brought forward for these Borris-Ileigh players but Stapleton doesn’t mind a jot. For Maher and Dan McCormack, the Tipperary holiday to New York and Cancun will have to be abandoned too.
“I’ll tell you, I’ll give up one Christmas for an All-Ireland semi-final,” smiled Stapleton. “It will affect it but maybe we’ll have our Christmas over the next two weeks.”