Conor Kenny can recall the new manager’s first encounter with Borris-Ileigh.
Johnny Kelly came to the Tipperary club with positivity. They responded in kind.
“I remember the first meeting we had when he came in in 2017 there, we met that January in the hall down there, and he said, ‘Look lads, ye can make the county final if you believe’.
“We had a great first year, we got to the county final and won the North final, it was unbelievable. The second year, everything . . . what could go wrong did go wrong, lads were picking up injuries left, right and centre. Lads were sick, everything. The year just fizzled out.
“This year, we got everyone back fit and strong and obviously the addition of the two young lads, Kevin (Maher) and JD (James Devaney), have really made us a strong panel and Angelo (Walsh), in charge of our conditioning put in serious work and thankfully everyone’s been fully fit this year and we’re reaping the rewards, really.”
That last point is acute. Borris have been finishing games very strongly.
“Yeah, I cannot underestimate what Angelo has done for this team. It’s actually unbelievable, like we’re blessed to have him. He’s too good for club level, to be honest with ya, he’s going to go right to the top.
“That’s a big key to it, we’re finishing strong and it’s showing, we’re winning matches by a point or two. It’s just down to hard work and he has us in great condition, so it’s thanks to him, very much so. It gives us great confidence, to be honest with you.
“I always felt that on our day, Borris could compete with anyone, but I always felt we were lacking consistency. In previous years, maybe we weren’t fit enough or whatever, but we really got fitter and the consistency has come through and we’re able to finish out games.
It’s unbelievable to be part of a team knowing that if a game comes down to a close finish, we’ll be there or thereabouts. It’s great for your confidence.
They need to be confident, facing Ballyhale next Sunday: “They’re the best team of all time, there’s no other way of putting it. They’re going for two in a row and it’s going to be a huge challenge, but we just want to perform.
“Honest to God, we’ve been in county finals before, against Thurles, and the occasion just got to us. It’s hard to know how we’ll take to the day, it’s a huge occasion, to go to Croke Park with your club, so I’m just hoping it doesn’t get the better of us.
“So we just want to perform and if we get a performance I feel we’ll be there or thereabouts. I’d be getting texts from players in all the neighbouring parishes, players I’d played against, genuinely wishing us the best of luck.
“Definitely it is rare but we’re representing Tipperary and people do want you to do well.”
Is there more to that support than simply being from the same county?
“I think a lot of clubs can relate to us. Obviously Brendan and Dan have played for Tipp but it’s just generally hard work that has got us there, and other clubs can relate to that and suppose can take inspiration from it, like they’re going back training at this time of the year and saying, ‘Look, you’ve seen what Borris Ileigh have done, it’s achievable’.
“It is bringing a lot of confidence to clubs and it’s genuinely through hard work though obviously we have a few stand-out players.”
Being underdogs isn’t a factor for Borris, says the big wing-forward.
“We’ve been underdogs all year and that tag kinda suits us — especially against Ballygunner, it gave us huge belief, the last day was the same.
“So it’s just about concentrating on ourselves now, and getting ourselves best prepared for the match. And if we can get a performance, as I said, I think we’ll be close.
“Paddy (Stapleton), Brendan (Maher) and Dan (McCormack), they’ve all been to Croke Park on All-Ireland finals day.
“Even other lads who have played in minor All-Ireland finals, there’s a lot of experience there, maybe not on this stage, but there is a lot of experience and if you listen to Brendan in the dressing-room, whatever he says is just unbelievable, like, it’s just so inspiring, and his performances this year have been incredible.
If you don’t get inspiration from that, like, you never will. Even the two young lads are back in the dressing-room after giving unbelievable performances (in the Harty Cup) — Kevin especially, and I suppose JD in the last game scored a goal, so his confidence is sky high.
“That’s good for Borris Illeighon Sunday, if he can continue that form.”
For all that, Kenny welcomes the pressure to perform this weekend.
“You need that pressure hurling as well, like.
“We did have freedom but you have to be playing with pressure as well and at the end of the day, we do have good tradition in this club and as someone said to me, ‘the last time Borris-Ileigh were in this competition, they won it’ so that’s a fact.”