Paddy Stapleton: ‘We’re not the greatest team that has ever come out of this parish’

Ballyhale Shamrocks’ golden generation of players enter the arena on Sunday as warm favourites for the All-Ireland club title, and deserved favourites at that.

Paddy Stapleton: ‘We’re not the greatest team that has ever come out of this parish’

Ballyhale Shamrocks’ golden generation of players enter the arena on Sunday as warm favourites for the All-Ireland club title, and deserved favourites at that (Croke Park, 2pm).

The Kilkenny champions have seven All-Ireland titles already in the bank and had to fight tooth and nail to get past Derry’s Slaughtneil in the semi-final, a victory that added another chapter to an already illustrious history.

Sunday’s opponents have a pretty impressive pedigree themselves. Borris-Ileigh ended a three-decade famine with their county title last year, but their name has been golden for decades in Tipperary.

When they won county titles in 1949, 1950 and 1953 Borris featured immortal stylists like Jimmy Finn, wing-back on the GAA’s team of the century, and the Kenny brothers, Phil (Phibby), Sean and Paddy.

The club came again in the 80s, when the likes of Richard Stakelum, Bobby and Aidan Ryan featured in their county title wins of 1981, 1983 and 1986 — as well as the All-Ireland club win of 1987.

Is that kind of heritage a help to the current squad?

“It definitely doesn’t hurt,” says defender Paddy Stapleton.

“I don’t know how much it helps, but it definitely doesn’t hurt because it wasn’t totally uncharted territory. You knew there was something there before to live up to.

“I always thought that was a nice thing to have to live up to. At least there was one other team before that did it. I was saying to the boys, ‘wouldn’t it be brilliant if we were like that and we had two teams that ever did it (All-Ireland club) and we were one of them’, that it would be brilliant.

“I always thought it was lovely to have something like that to live up to, because you would see a lot of teams winning their county final for the first time or for the first time in a long time and, I suppose, that is the be-all and end-all. So, I think it was something that we could focus on.

“We had another team that had done it before. We’re not the greatest team that has ever come out of this parish. So, let’s go and see if we can challenge and try to emulate what they did before. I certainly don’t think that it hurt us when we got to that stage.”

That All-Ireland club title in ’87 featured Phil (Phibby) Kenny’s son Philip. In time he settled in Celbridge with his family, but not forever. Hence Philip’s presence as a Borris selector now and his sons, Niall and Conor, chipping in as a powerful double threat up front.

“It’s great for the family in fairness,” says Conor.

“We’re going alright I suppose, with our father involved as a selector there’s a good oul’ atmosphere around the house at the moment.

“We’re really looking forward to the match now. I can’t wait.”

They say the savage loves his native shore, and Kenny acknowledges the pull of home, despite learning his trade in Kildare.

“I came to love hurling there, fell in love with the game in Kildare, I played all my hurling there and then I came down to move in with my granny in 2013, and played my last year in U21 with Tipperary.

“The family moved down then and Niall came with them. That’s how my past worked out anyway.”

Kenny acknowledges that neither Borris nor Ballyhale draw from a big constituency.

“Cuala and Na Piarsaigh and those clubs would have a huge pick whereas in Borris-Illeigh it’s very small, same as Ballyhale.

“Ballyhale are steeped in tradition, we have a tradition ourselves. We have no other distractions in terms of soccer or football, we just love hurling here, it’s our identity, really, the underage structure here is unbelievable.

“If we can get one or two from every underage group then it looks good for the future.”

Kenny’s point about bringing players through from underage is significant. History can help, but what contribution does geography make? Borris are like many other clubs in rural Ireland, challenged by demographics and depopulation. Stapleton points out that their location, however, brings a particular dividend as they try to sustain themselves. “I suppose some clubs can die off a little bit. And, even now it’s getting harder because numbers can get slacker.

“I think that we are a little bit lucky because we are between a couple of big towns so the employment is kinda there. So, it wouldn’t be too bad to live in that way.

“But if you are off the centre of what is happening a little bit in Tipperary, or wherever, then it is probably very, very hard to keep it going. Once you go down through the levels at senior level and maybe you have less kids at underage it’s very, very hard to keep up.

“We were a long, long time without real success. We won a couple of Norths here and there, but this, I hope, will drive the belief and drive the hunger for people to play; even for young people to to say, ‘wouldn’t it be brilliant to play for Borris-Ileigh when I am older’. I think it is important, very important.”

History influenced by geography, teams shaped by achievement. It’s what makes every club different and makes every club the same.

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.