Premier decider a family affair as Borris target return to glory days
Back when they won the Tipperary SHC title in 1986, no one around Borris-Ileigh was to know the good times were soon to come to an end.
How could they?
That 1986 crown represented their third county title in six seasons and it would be followed by the club's greatest day a few months later when they went on to claim the All-Ireland club title, beating Wexford's Rathnure by 2-9 to 0-9.
It's an achievement that has stood the test of time in Tipperary. Borris-Ileigh remain the last club from the county to win an All-Ireland senior club hurling title.
Still, the rough must come with the smooth and with the exception of losing the 1988 county final after a replay, Borris have been largely unmapped when it comes to winning in Tipperary since, as former player Richie Stakelum explains.
"We got back to a final again in 1988," he recalls. "And we lost that after a replay. I remember Pat McGrath (father of current Tipperary seniors Noel and John) got a goal with literally the last play of the game and that won it for them (Loughmore-Castleiney).
"But after that we struggled. My brother Conor (the current Tipperary senior selector) would have been very young when we won the club All-Ireland in 1987. I'm sure he thought there'd be plenty of more big days to come after that. But we generally haven't been close."
They are back in tomorrow's final, facing off against the four-in-a-row-chasing Thurles Sarsfields. As Stakelum explains, Borris-Ileigh have a knack for producing inter-county hurlers, but having enough good players at the same time to launch an assault is a different proposition.
"I suppose the club would have a good tradition of having players good enough to go and play with Tipperary but it's a small area and having a team that is good enough all through is a challenge and that's the issue. But they seem to have got that right this year."
Stakelum reckons a few things have come together for Borris this season.
They have a proven winner over the team in Johnny Kelly who has brought success pretty much everywhere he has been, most notably winning an All-Ireland club title with Portumna in 2009.
He won with Coolderry in Offaly and Kildangan in North Tipp and he has had his hand in other successes at various grades too.
Stakelum also points out that former county star Paddy Stapleton is committed to the club full-time after leaving the Tipp set-up while they have also built up some momentum in their games to date.
"Johnny Kelly clearly deserves a lot of credit," Stakelum says.
"He's done great work with the lads and he seems to know how to get teams together and get them organised.
"It's a great boost too that the likes of Paddy Stapleton is retired from the county and with the club all the time. That helps a lot and you have the likes of Brendan (Maher) in the form of his life for them as far as I can see. We have a combination of good hurlers and physically very powerful men.
"And they also have momentum. They have come through a couple of games where teams have come back at them and I think that will stand to them."
They remain the outsiders with the bookmakers but their last win in 1986 led to Stakelum being selected as captain and the famous "famine is over" speech when Tipp won in Munster.
In more recent times, Stakelum popped up as part of Anthony Daly's back-room team in Dublin but his ties to home remain strong and he'll be in Semple Stadium tomorrow, sitting alongside his brother Conor.
The Stakelum house will be divided in some ways. Conor's son, also Conor, will line out for Sarsfields. Another nephew of theirs, Cathal Moloney, will also be in action for the town team.
Incidentally, the family will be looking to make a small piece of history. Conor Jr is aiming to become the third Conor Stakelum to win a Tipperary senior title with a different club.
Conor and Richie's father won a county title with Holycross in 1948. They had their success with Borris in the 1980s and now Conor is on his own glory trail with Sarsfields.
"I still think Conor will be shouting for Borris," he smiles. "Or at least he'll have to if he's sitting beside me."