It would be going too far to say Borris-Ileigh’s success made Christmas bearable for Paddy Stapleton and his family.
Losing their sister and daughter Amanda as they did in May to an inoperable brain tumour, the first festive season without her was obviously going to be difficult.
But January 5 was a date that could at least distract Stapleton in his grief.
“It’s great that you have a focus, I’ll say that much. Look it, we’re a family together and we’ll get through it. But I just think it’s nice that you have something else, that you have something there to go and put your energy into and get a bit of positivity out of.
“All my family are steeped in hurling and love it so they’re following Borris-Ileigh all the time. It’s just lovely that five, six days later you can move on to something that’s a bit more positive and go that way and at least keep your mind off stuff.”
Stapleton is all too aware it wasn’t just themselves in the parish who were bereaved in recent times. There was Brendan Maher’s cousin Lorraine and others like Martin Hayes, a former selector, and John Ryan and Nicky Cooney.
What would it have been like without the Dan Breen Cup and the Munster Club SHC silverware to keep them company?
Yeah, it would have been difficult. The thing that takes people’s minds off it, it mightn’t be there. Winning the county, the supporters anyway were so happy after that. The outburst was unbelievably memorable.
“As players we didn’t discuss it. There wasn’t a need. We had our own thing to do. But Jesus, you felt it after the match. It was certainly different from any win I’ve ever had.
"Even after the county semi it was something similar, at least we had something to be positive about. Because there was a massive dark cloud of different stuff that happened. This is like its own cloud now, pushing that to the side. Because it’s a run after a bad run of events.
"This is something to have people looking forward.”
His mother Patricia has embraced the run by placing a mannequin sporting the Borris-Ileigh colours outside her house. “It’s still on the go,” smiles Stapleton, “scaring people walking up to the shop every day!
“Sure, I suppose that’s what makes the GAA, the different unique things you see about the place. The pure countryness of it — you won’t see in Dublin city probably, a mannequin outside someone’s house. It’s like the tradition of the cockerel (which appeared at the last two cup presentations).
You want those small things for your own parish, to identify yourself as different from the rest.
Having a priest as affable and sage, not only in the family but in the panel, as cousin Vinny has also helped. Based in the Bohernanave church beside Semple Stadium, he’s been of assistance in more ways than one, as Stapleton explains: “It’s good for us. We’re all able to park inside in his church across from the stadium! He came in right handy this year. It’s more the training is the issue for Vinny, the Sunday mornings can be an issue. He gets to as much as he can.
“He’s a great servant to us, and the parish. A mighty man. He was a primary teacher before. A happy, happy man since he joined the priesthood. Great man to have around. Great for a few words if you need them. Very, very wise old head. A hardy buck to train against too. His preparations are good. We like to have him around every time we can.”
Not that Stapleton belittles what was put in front of them in Munster but after beating Kiladangan to claim the Dan Breen Cup everything became easier. “Well, I can just speak about the Munster final and certainly the pressure for me was way higher in the county final, definitely, definitely, oh Jesus it was.
I know I’m getting on, and that’s the one thing you really wanted to do after all these years, win a county final, because you just want your career to mean that much, that I sacrificed everything — and I loved doing it — but I did win the ultimate and what I wanted to win at the end.
“It was one of the most pressurising things ever because you had two teams in it that, you know, we hadn’t won it in so long and Kiladangan had never won it so it was like your big chance, ‘who is going to take the big chance? After that the shackles were kind of off a little bit. So I think it did help, you know, there was a bit of confidence there, even from the supporters to us, it was, ‘Jeez lads, ye’ll have a right chance now.’”
With a manager as accomplished as Johnny Ryan at the helm and Brendan Maher in the form he’s in, anything would seem possible.
Stapleton marvelled at his performance against Ballygunner, suggesting he hasn’t played better.
“I don’t think so. All his real qualities are coming to the fore. Obviously he’s a great stick man but he’s using it in a great way as well. He’s tough, he’s strong, he’s fast, he has a great brain. He’s putting it all together as well as I’ve ever seen him do.
“I know in 2010 and 2011, he seemed to be everywhere on the pitch… he got the ankle break (in ‘11) but you know, when you’re leader of Tipp, when you’re captain, I always felt he was pushing on the work-rate, for the team.
“But the last couple of years, even before he did his cruciate, let’s say the group stages of the Munster last year, he was just playing phenomenal stuff.
“He’s just been phenomenal. And you know what, the higher the match, like, the Munster Championship he’s really pushed it on to another level. But he’s always done that for the club, he’s always pushed it on, he’s been brilliant.
“Like, I think Paudie Mahony is a savage player, you so have to keep your eye on him, he scores easily. And they’d be looking for him to score. So to mark a man and to get on the amount of ball he did too, to win the ruck balls, the high balls, and then to come forward out of nowhere from centre-back to get that point, that put a cap on it.
"What an unbelievable score, probably his best....I’m probably saying it a long while now but that was probably his best day alright.”
Not even two at the time, Stapleton was sent to Moyne-Templetuohy to be minded by his aunt when Borris-Ileigh claimed the Tommy Moore Cup in 1987 (he now works with her in Coláiste Mhuire Co-Ed in Thurles) To beat St Thomas’ tomorrow and return to Croke Park, a place he thought he had finished with back in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final as a blood sub, would be monumental.
But it’s the journey that’s been most precious to him, memories like meeting his parents after wins and that trip home from Páirc Uí Rinn two months ago. “The Munster final — that was probably our first ever day on a bus! We got on the bus on the way home and had unbelievable craic.
As a team you often get split up straight away but that was an hour and a half of a sing-song all the way home. That was special.
Borris’ hat-trick of jerseys
After sporting three different jerseys in a row, it remains to be seen what Borris-Ileigh wear in tomorrow’s All-Ireland semi-final.
All have been maroon and white but upon winning the Tipperary senior hurling championship they were ordered to wear a jersey of a different manufacturer to Bourke Sports.
A scramble saw them wear a former kit in their Munster semi-final victory over Glen Rovers before they donned another in the final win over Ballygunner.
“Bourke Sports sponsor us in Borrisoleigh,” explained Paddy Stapleton.
“I think there was some issue with the GAA and registered jerseys. We had an old set of O’Neills, wore them for the semi.
“Then we had a set of Azzurri for the final. Who knows what we’ll have for the next day — Nike maybe!”