In time, this may be revered in North Tipperary as The Battle of Broken Hurley but Borris-Ileigh have no time to reflect right now as a first All-Ireland final in 33 years awaits them on Sunday week.
The score-line may have flattered them but only a little such was the character they showed throughout. St Thomas’ inaccuracy was the Achilles Heel yet their defence was rarely allowed to settle against a frenzied Borris-Ileigh effort.
On seven occasions, the teams were level but in the final quarter only one was standing up as St Thomas’ wide count ballooned to 15. That’s an unacceptable statistic in anyone’s language.
After inspiring his club to a Munster crown, Brendan Maher raised the bar for himself once more with a 10-point tally, his opening score almost a replica of his outrageous effort in the closing stages of the Munster final in Páirc Uí Rinn in November. His other score from play, his last, was just as extraordinary given that he swung a busted hurley to split the posts.
St Thomas’ early fluency, highlighted by Éanna Burke’s dazzling finish for a goal after being teed up by Oisín Flannery, made way to a Borris-Ileigh display oozing composure and confidence and clearly influenced by what had been achieved in downing Ballygunner.
Burke may well have found the net a second time only to see his shot fizz wide but Borris-Ileigh dusted themselves off relatively quickly, even going ahead in the 15th minute. Jerry Kelly was a torpedo-like figure, cutting his way through for an early score and then doing the labour to assist Devaney for a 21st-minute point.
St Thomas’ manager Kevin Lally rued his team not being able to push on when they had seized the initiative. After that blazing goal by Burke in the 10th minute, Borris-Ileigh scored the next three points, all from frees. When St Thomas had swallowed a two-point deficit and turned it into a one-point lead 12 minutes into the second half, their opponents came back with the next five scores, outscoring them 1-8 to 0-3 for the remainder.
“We didn’t kick on from that, which is the killer right now,” said Lally who also rued the inability to find the net more than once in the first half.
“I think we had four goal chances in the first half and there were three left behind us and then our wide count in the second half on top of that. We had eight or nine in the second half.
“Even though we were off there was a couple of chances with five or six minutes to go, we could have brought it back to two, and then they get a couple of scores off turnover ball which we know they are very good at.
“It was alive, we had it back to two but then all of a sudden it goes to four and then they get the goal. It was a ding-dong battle and it was going to come right down the home straight. They finished a bit stronger and they killed us there with a couple of late scores.”
Borris-Ileigh’s ability to produce a flow of scores —nine of their 11 points in the first half came in bursts of three — was what gave them a merited half-time lead, 0-11 to 1-6. A couple of them had come as a result of their forwards performing turnovers and in the second half that doggedness was all the more apparent, particularly when Kevin Maher blocked James Regan to turn and send over a score in the 51st minute.
Conor Kenny followed that up two minutes later with another score from an interception, much to the delight of Johnny Kelly on the sideline. “Well, you bring up the intensity levels in training, replicate that in games, and it really is about building energy, bringing it to a head, explode on the day of the game. At certain times we lacked a bit of composure.” Borris-Ileigh looked winners with over 10 minutes of normal time remaining but their fine support in the 4,921 attendance grew audibly uncomfortable when St Thomas’ ended a string of wides to score a brace, the last of them from David Burke who was unusually quiet.
That made it a two-point game but with his first contribution coming off the bench Ciarán Cowan won a free, which Brendan Maher converted while breaking his hurley. Calling for a replacement, he still had the split piece of ash in his hand when the ball was delivered his way soon after the resultant puck-out and despite that difficulty was able to post his 10th point.
Devaney’s goal at the death was the cherry on the cake for a team that are only getting better with each game.
Scorers for Borris-Ileigh: B. Maher (0-10, 6 frees, 2 65s); Kevin Maher (0-4, 2 frees); J. Devaney (1-1); C. Kenny (0-3); Kieran Maher (0-2, 1 free); J. Kelly (0-1).
Scorers for St Thomas’: Darragh Burke (0-5, 3 frees, 1 65); É. Burke (1-0); C. Cooney (0-3); B. Burke (0-2); O. Flannery, J. Regan, S. Cooney, David Burke (0-1 each).
BORRIS-ILEIGH: J. McCormack; S. Burke, P. Stapleton, L. Ryan; S. McCormack (j-c), B. Maher, R. McCormack; T. Ryan, D. McCormack; C. Kenny (j-c), N. Kenny, J. Devaney; Kevin Maher, J. Kelly, Kieran Maher.
Subs for Borris-Ileigh: J. Hogan for N. Kenny (57); C. Cowan for J. Kelly (60+1).
ST THOMAS’: J. Barrett; C. Mahoney, S. Skehill, C. Burke; D. Cooney, S. Cooney, D. Sherry; J. Regan, David Burke; C. Cooney (c), Darragh Burke, B. Burke; O. Flannery, É. Burke, F. Burke.
Subs for St Thomas’: None.
Referee: P. O’Dwyer (Carlow).