'It’s unbelievably emotional for everyone' - Borris-Ileigh end 33-year wait for Tipp glory
Borris-Ileigh 1-15 Kiladangan 1-12
A dark, dreary and sometimes weeping sky, which hung over Semple Stadium until well into the second half, had given way to a bright evening by the time Borris-Ileigh united in joy after becoming Tipperary champions for the first time since 1986.
It was an appropriate representation of life in a parish which has experienced more than its fair share of tragedy in recent times. Yesterday was about coming together in a special way, with the team providing the entire community with a truly joyous occasion.
"It’s unbelievably emotional for everyone in Borris-Ileigh. We know the depth of tragedy that’s been had in that community for the last 18 months. I don’t really have words of comfort for those people, but I suppose if I was to say anything, if they could just look at the resilience of that team," said manager, Portumna man Johnny Kelly
"Hopefully we can somehow provide something for those families that have suffered such tragedies, that they get some comfort from that victory."
Brendan Maher, a heroic figure for county and club again this year, echoed Kelly’s sentiments.
"You could see the emotion out there. I saw some people embracing Paddy Stapleton (full-back) and his family – they have had an unbelievably tough year. And a lot of the younger members of the squad have buried two of their best friends. It’s great that the club is together and that everyone from the parish is here. We’ll all go back to Borris-Ileigh together and celebrate together," he said.
They did so after putting together a highly-efficient performance which saw them lead from the 15th minute all the way to the finish.
Kiladangan, who were seeking their first county senior title, trailed by six points just after half-time and while they won the rest of the game by 1-5 to 0-5, they were unable to rein in opponents who pride themselves on running a high-security defence.
"We’d probably be known as a defensive team that don’t concede a lot or score a lot. Our last few games have shown that. We needed to keep things tight today against a very good Kiladangan forward line," said Maher.
Still, it might have been all very different if Borris-Ileigh goalkeeper James McCormack hadn’t pulled off two superb saves, one in either half.
The first came in the opening seconds of the game when he got a touch to a fierce drive by Billy Seymour. The ball hit the crossbar and upright but, crucially, it stayed out.
It was a moment which suggested the gods might be smiling on Borris-Ileigh, who lost the Tipperary north senior championship to Kiladangan by eight points in late September.
The second save in the 49th minute was probably even more important, coming at a time when Kiladangan were four points behind.
Their goalkeeper Barry Hogan came forward to take a penalty, won by sub Seán Hayes, but McCormack deflected his low drive out for a ’65.
Kiladangan were building momentum at that stage and a goal might have made all the difference, but the let-off provided Borris-Ileigh with a further shot of energy which helped them manage the game to a successful conclusion.
Their goal came in the 28th minute, an opportunist strike by 18-year-old James ‘JD’ Devaney, the undoubted attacking star of the show.
He scored 1-4 from play while looking very much like a talent that will go on to emulate his famous grandfather, the late Liam Devaney, a Tipperary star in the 1950s-’60s. His movement and finishing were a joy to watch, except of course for Kiladangan supporters in the 7,250 crowd.
"He is only a child really, but he has so much more potential. To do that in his first county final was incredible. He has the breeding," said Kelly.
Another 18-year-old, Kevin Maher, Devaney’s classmate in Our Lady’s School, Templemore, showed great maturity too, doing well in general play and pointing three frees.
Brendan Maher pointed two long-range frees while also imposing trademark authority in general play.
Dan McCormack, Jerry Kelly and Paddy Stapleton made important contributions too.
Borris-Ileigh led by 1-9 to 0-7 at half-time and a Devaney point put them six points clear in the 32nd minute, but Kiladangan responded within seconds when Dan O’Meara scored a goal.
Borris-Ileigh didn’t allow the setback to break their rhythm and had taken the lead out to five points heading into the final quarter.
Kildangan missed a few good chances from there on and with Borris-Ileigh defending in numbers, they remained calm and assured.
"We had to stay at it and dig it out. We showed great character, but then that’s what you get from these lads," said Kelly.
It was his third success in different counties, having previously won titles with Portumna in Galway and Coolderry in Offaly.
Brendan Maher said that Kelly’s influence has been huge.
"He transformed the team really –that’s no disrespect to the men before him – he just brought something that we hadn’t experienced before.
"We were hit hard with injuries last year. Along with myself, we had three other first 15 lads injured. It was a little bit of a write-off.
"So it was good to get back this year and try to banish the demons of two years ago (they lost the county final). It’s a lovely feeling. We’ll enjoy it," he said.
The celebrations won’t last long, however, as they begin their bid for Munster glory against Glen Rovers (Cork) in Thurles next Sunday.
Scorers – Borris-Ileigh: J Devaney 1-4; J Kelly, K Maher (3f), B Maher (2f) 0-3 each; D McCormack, N Kenny 0-1 each. Kiladangan: W Connor 0-7 (5f, 1 ’65’’ 1 sl); D O’Meara 1-1; P Flynn 0-2; T Gallagher, A Loughnane 0-1 each.
Borris-Ileigh – J McCormack; S Burke, P Stapleton, L Ryan; S McCormack, B Maher, R McCormack; T Ryan, D McCormack; Kieran Maher, N Kenny, C Kenny; Kevin Maher, J Kelly, JD Devaney. Subs: J Hogan for T Ryan (55).
Kiladangan – B Hogan; D Sweeney, J Quigley, F Hayes; D McGrath, A Flynn, D Moran; J Loughnane, J Horan; D O’Meara, W Connors, J Gallagher; T Gallagher, P Flynn, B Seymour. Subs: M Minehan for D McGrath (h-t), S Hayes for J Loughnane (h-t), A Loughnane for Gallagher (51), B McLoughney for T Gallagher (60).
Ref – F Horgan (Knockavilla Kickhams)