Wednesday 11 December 2019

Maher aiming to make most of Borris-Ileigh 'bonus territory'

Brendan Maher admits Borris-Ileigh are underdogs against Ballygunner but believes his club will have had a successful year whether they win or lose. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Maher admits Borris-Ileigh are underdogs against Ballygunner but believes his club will have had a successful year whether they win or lose. Photo: Sportsfile

Frank Roche

Brendan Maher knows all about the All-Ireland history attached to Borris-Ileigh - even though he wasn't born when it happened.

The last time his home club emerged from the Tipperary cauldron, in 1986, they went on a run that took them all the way to Croke Park coronation the following St Patrick's Day.

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But the 30-year-old All-Star defender is just as acutely aware of the more recent 'bad history' associated with Tipp SHC champions.

"It's been spoken about over the last couple of weeks," Maher confirmed ahead of Sunday's AIB Munster club final against holders Ballygunner in Páirc Uí Rinn.

"We're the first team since 2012 to actually progress on in Munster, Thurles Sarsfields being the last. I don't know (why). It is a huge challenge coming off the county final to get yourself going again."

Persuasion

The record book makes for grim reading for people of a Premier County persuasion. Thurles became the 12th provincial champions from Tipperary seven years ago, winning three matches en route. But the same club fell at the first fence in '14, '15 and '17 - and even after beating Ballygunner in a 2016 quarter-final, they lost to Ballyea the next day.

Loughmore-Castleiney were pipped by Na Piarsaigh in 2013; Clonoulty-Rossmore were pulverised by the same opponents last year.

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Already, though, Borris have bucked the trend. Just a week after their victory over Kiladangan to end 33 years of Premier pain, they overcame Glen Rovers of Cork to book their place in the final.

"The experience of Johnny Kelly (manager) was massive that week," says Maher. "He spoke of his experience with Portumna - their first win, I think. They ended up getting caught by Dunloy (in February 2004) and he referenced that a couple of times during the week and the regret they had.

"We enjoyed the county final, we celebrated it like we would have if we didn't have a game. But on the Wednesday night we got back down to training and there was a serious chat to say 'We have four days of operation so let's give it everything. We may as well while we're here.'

"It is bonus territory but it probably would have put a bit of a dampener on the county final win if we didn't get a performance. That was the motivation and, if anything, we performed with a little bit more freedom and confidence the following Sunday."

There were, he admits, "a few sore heads on the Wednesday but it's always the case with the group that we'll enjoy and celebrate as much as anybody else but when we train, we train hard."

Now for the next challenge: Ballygunner are a proven provincial beast, unlike Glen Rovers who were, after all, beaten Cork finalists.

"The fact you're in a final now, you want to win it," Maher stressed. "We're huge underdogs and rightly so - Ballygunner have been an unbelievable team over the past number of years, totally dominant in Waterford, and this is their third final (in succession).

"I won't say it's a win-win for us, we're going to give it everything... but if it doesn't go our way it will still be a successful year, so we are in bonus territory.

"The nature of us all and the competitiveness in us all, we're not going down there on Sunday to make up numbers."

Already a three-time All-Ireland senior medallist at county level, Maher can now appreciate the famous club footsteps he is following in.

"There's a really proud tradition in Borris-Ileigh and it's always been there. And I suppose the fact that we won this year, we kind of feel part of that now," he explained.

"I think it was Paddy Stapleton who said, every time you go into (Stapleton's) bar, it's just flooded with photos of those successful teams in the '80s. And now our photo is going to go up there and that means an awful lot to us.

"You know in your local parish, those things are big. The fact that we have that now, it gives you a huge lift."

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