When Brendan Maher nailed the late free which pushed Borris-Ileigh three points ahead yesterday, his hurley split from the bas upon the moment of impact, the loose shaft of ash clearly flying off into the late winter dusk.
Brendan was signalling for a replacement hurley as soon as the ball flew over the bar but the Borris-Ileigh bench were slow in reacting to the request.
Brendan still did was most smart players do in that scenario; get your hurley up, try and block the space or clog the central channel on a short puckout. Yet Brendan is more than just a smart player because he married his game-intelligence with a level of silken class that saw him — somehow — block the ball, then pick it up the resultant pass with a hurley resembling a spoon, and striking the sliotar straight over the bar from over his right shoulder out on the sideline. Brendan’s immediate reaction was to fire the hurley — or what was left of it — up into the night sky like a flare to signal Borris were heading to Croke Park.
It was an unreal piece of skill from an incredible player but it also neatly encapsulated the game. St Thomas’ short puckout was poorly executed — after going short, it ended up back with goalkeeper James Barrett. He may have been trying to go longer again after taking the return pass but there was no point in delaying the process on a puckout that needed to immediately go long, especially when Brendan was so far up the pitch, and away from the landing zone St Thomas’ should have been trying to hit.
Borris-Ileigh were the better team but Thomas’ were sloppy and wayward and they left themselves wide open when they kept missing the chances to close the door. Their 12 wides to Borris’ five told a large part of the game’s story but Thomas’ performance was riddled with errors and poor execution. Conor Cooney, James Regan, Darragh, Davy and Fintan Burke all had misses that will haunt them. And that level of profligacy is lethal when you’re leaking so many scores at the other end.
Another county title may have soothed the deep sense of regret from last year’s All-Ireland final hammering to Ballyhale but a second All-Ireland semi-final defeat in four seasons will reopen all those old wounds for Thomas’.
They felt all along that their big guns would perform far better this time around than they did in the early part of last season. But they didn’t.
Shane Cooney had a big second half but Borris had all the standout performers; Brendan, Dan McCormack, the Kennys, especially Conor, Ray McCormac while young JD Devanney was outstanding; as well as scoring 1-1, JD was fouled for five frees.
That’s what these big club hurling battles can showcase – latent class and talent that the wider hurling community haven’t really heard about up to this point. JD was on the extended Tipperary U20 panel last year. He’s playing a Dr Harty Cup quarter-final on Wednesday. He has the class and potential to make it with Tipp but, if he does, this club campaign will have been the real launchpad.
IT was a real battle but the great story was on show up in Newry. I arrived early in the Gaelic Grounds because I wanted to see the Ballyhale-Slaughtneil game. A number of us — Shane Stapleton, Ken Hogan and John McIntyre — huddled around the laptop of Michael Moynihan from this parish to watch the Derry men manfully try to sack club hurling’s royal castle.
They nearly did but, the way in which they went about their business, summed up the massive ambition within Slaughtneil. They were massive underdogs but a club facing into its sixth All-Ireland club-semi-final in six years (three in football, three in hurling) was never going to be over-awed by the occasion or the pedigree of the crowd in the other corner.
They pushed Ballyhale big-time but it was more than just fronting up because they had the skill and the quality to match. It could have got really sticky when Brendan Rodgers’ nailed his late goal but Ballyhale’s reaction showed exactly why they are All-Ireland champions. Instead of experiencing that potential nightmare, Ballyhale will benefit from that scare — and the quality of the match — in two weeks’ time.
This stuff is meat and drink to the Shamrocks but Henry Shefflin’s story isn’t too dissimilar from Brendan Maher’s fairytale journey over the last couple of years; one goes from a torn cruciate to an All-Ireland with Tipp and a potential All-Ireland club; the other fella goes straight from retirement into management and is now on the cusp of successive All-Ireland club titles in his first managerial gig.
The outcome in two weeks’ time will dictate how glorious the fairytale really is. It may sound ludicrous to use that term around a guy who has lived through the fairytales of 10 All-Ireland medals but winning the next All-Ireland will mean as much to Henry as any of those other titles.
That’s the Kilkenny way but it’s that kind of desire and passion that gives meaning to the magic of hurling.
Richie Stakelum was telling me recently that they had one magic night in Borris-Ileigh before Christmas. The victorious 1987 All-Ireland winning squad sat down and had a few jars with the current squad.
Richie said that he had a feeling afterwards that this group would get to the final.
Yet the dominant feeling Richie had on the road back to Dublin the following day was the massive impact this journey was having on the community and parish.
I’m sure they’re feeling the same way in Kilcoo, Co Down, this morning but I always feel that the whole hurling community feels more invested in hurling fairytales than the football community does in great football stories like Kilcoo.
Another Kilkenny-Tipperary All-Ireland final may not sound like a fairytale but hurling is one giant fairytale when you have days like yesterday.