Borris-Ileigh and Tipperary hurler Dan McCormack has hailed the incredible bond that has seen the club claim a surprise county and provincial double.
The north Tipperary parish has had more than its fair share of anguish these last two years but as supporters congregated on the soaked Páirc Uí Rinn sod long after the final whistle had blown on Sunday there was not just respite but elation.
McCormack knew the team’s journey this year was tinged with sadness but they were able to harness it. “Over the last 15 months, there have been five tragedies within the parish.
“Going back to our selector in 2015-16 Martin Hayes, then we had two tragedies who would have been very good friends with lads in the team, John Ryan and Nicky Cooney.
“We had a cousin of Brendan (Maher) who passed away (Lorraine) as well and then Amanda Stapleton (sister of Paddy). We pride ourselves on having a good strong community and their memories would have galvanised us. We seemed to have a cause to hurl for (on Sunday).
“We’re like every other parish where the GAA is at the centre and it’s the focal point and everything revolves around the hurling field. When there is a tragedy you want to rally around the people who are mourning and give them some bit of a lift and a release and I hope that’s what we’ve done.”
In the sporting sense, Borris-Ileigh had endured a lot pain before Johnny Kelly arrived and turned “the club upside down”, as McCormack put it.
At times it seemed their storied history weighed heavy on the current players but not this year as they upset team after team.
“We’re in absolute dreamland at the moment. We really didn’t think this was going to come true. We’ve had a huge amount of barren years in Borris-Ileigh for the last 15, 20 years. We couldn’t get over the line. We were beaten in quarter-finals, semi-finals. To finally call ourselves Munster club champions doesn’t feel right and it’s going to take some time to sink in.”
It might have taken 33 years but this team remain on course to emulate the heroes of 1986/87 with St Thomas’ now standing in their way in an early January All-Ireland semi-final.
“Some of the players’ fathers would have played on that team and there’s a huge tradition in the club and we just wanted to keep that going,” said McCormack. “We’re after having some tight games and it’s built up a huge resolve and character in the team.
“Going back to the Drom-Inch game in the county quarter-final, we haven’t actually won any game by more than three points so I think that has stood to us. We’re used to scrapping over the line in really tight games and thankfully we have done so again.
“We’re playing St Thomas’ next and you never know. We were massive underdogs (against Ballygunner), they were 1/3 or 1/4 (odds) and you never know with winter hurling.
“It’s slow, it’s really heavy and most of it comes down to hard grit and determination. The rucks, the small things. If you have that inside it will take you a long way.”
The extension of Borris-Ileigh’s season means McCormack and Maher will likely not travel on Tipperary’s team holiday, but it’s hardly a disappointment, the former insisted.
“I don’t think either of us will miss a team holiday when you’re going into an All-Ireland semi-final with your family, your brothers and your cousins. It’s one of the small sacrifices we’re going to make and we’re just going to keep going.
“To be training over Christmas? I’ve never seen so many lads delighted to be training in the freezing cold in November. It’s gas. Usually, we’re going back for pre-season training at this time of the year but everybody is now on a high in the parish.
“I think Brendan’s girlfriend and my girlfriend were saying, ‘Jesus, what are we going to do if they win? Do we hope they win?’” he laughed. “It’s New York and Cancun but if you were told you’re playing in an All-Ireland quarter-final you wouldn’t give a toss about a team holiday. There will be plenty of good nights out and holidays when you retire but you’ll be retiring with a Munster club medal and that’s something we could have only dreamed of.
“There were years when we couldn’t get past the quarter-final stage in Tipp but since Johnny Kelly has come in he’s turned the club upside down. What he’s after doing is just unbelievable.
“He’s after taking us to two club finals and a Munster final.
“We hadn’t got to a county final since 1986 when we last won it.
“He’s obviously going to Offaly but we’ll be praying we get him back towards the end of next year.”