The joy that burst through the Borris-lleigh following when the final whistle rang in the Tipperary county final wasn’t just as a result of winning their first title in 33 years.
Rather, for this small, tight-knit community, it was a reason to celebrate following the numerous tragedies that have hit the small town in North Tipperary.
“It’s nice to just have something positive to be talking about. Because it just felt like since August of last year it was just one after the other”, Borris-lleigh star Brendan Maher explained.
“Obviously it started off with Martin Hayes unexpectedly dying, and he was a huge member of the club who was involved with several teams. That flowed into the news of Amanda (Stapleton) being sick and my own cousin Lorraine got sick and they both passed away.
“And then we had the two young men who passed away within a few months of each other. It just seemed like one after the other, it was just constant.
“I remember someone saying, ‘God, if I have to do another Guard of Honour now, I’ll go mad. It just seemed like that was constantly happening.
“It’s nice to have something positive to talk about and something positive to give people a lift.
“It hasn’t got rid of thoughts about them. Obviously, the families affected are still grieving – that’ll always be there. It is nice to give a little boost and lift the spirits a bit.”
As is the case with any club, when you are playing alongside brothers family and childhood friends, it makes any win all the more special and memorable.
The 30-year-old has won it all at inter-county level. He has three All-Ireland medals, five Munster titles and three All-Star awards under his belt with Tipperary. Yet beating Kiladangan in the county decider ranks about it all.
“Myself and Dan [McCormack] were talking about it, and it’s not to be disrespectful to anything we’ve won with Tipp, but it does trump everything. That’s the reason: you’re going back to family members, you’re playing with family members, with relatives, with people you’ve grown up with. To win together, it does create a special bond.
“There’s a great buzz around the place, there’s a great buzz in our dressing room. Everyone is looking forward to going training, that’s not always the case, especially when the weather is so bad. Lads are coming down now with smiles on their faces and you can’t wait to get out on the pitch, as cold and wet as it is.”
Just seven days after their biggest victory in over three decades, the club returned to the field to face Glen Rovers in the Munster club semi-final which they subsequently won by three points.
While that meant that celebrations had to be cut short, Maher and Borris-lleigh know there is a bigger prize on offer that they must keep sight of.
“Johnny Kelly was great in that he spoke to us on Wednesday night after the County Final about his experiences with Portumna and how they won their first one and celebrated it in style and hadn’t taken the next stages (seriously) and ended up getting caught by Dunloy who beat them unexpectedly.
“He said that they had huge regrets over that. And he was kind of saying it would be similar for us if we go out, don’t perform against Glen Rovers, and lose. It would put a dampener on the County Final win and we’d always have that in our minds.
“So that fairly well woke us up and got us to say, ‘lads, we need to get over this one now and make sure we take things going’. And, thankfully, we did that. It’s the same again on Sunday.
“We’re obviously huge underdogs against Ballygunner. But we want to get a performance out of ourselves and be able to go back to Borris-Ileigh with our heads held high. If that brings a win, then, I mean, it would be a great position to be in looking forward to an All-Ireland semi-final.
“We believe we can do it. We’re not going down to make up numbers or anything like that. Club hurling is club hurling and at this time of the year anything can happen and we’ll give it everything we can”, insisted Maher.
That self-belief is a trait synonymous with Borris-lleigh, stemming from their victorious teams of old. Many within the county might refer to the club as cocky, especially considering their team mascot is a cockerel, but given their lack of success, Maher does not believe that has filtered down to their generation.
On the contrary, he maintains that a healthy level of self-confidence can only be a benefit when they face reigning Munster champions Ballygunner in the provincial decider on Sunday.
“I suppose it adds to your belief that you know the guys that were involved [in the 80s] and you say ‘If they did it, why can’t we?’
“You obviously want to push yourself as much as possible to try and emulate what they did as well.
“There are two sides to it. It gives you belief but also gives you motivation as well.
“Call it whatever you want but it is self-belief. It’s the belief that it’s been done before here so we can do it again.”
Borris-Ileigh and Tipperary hurler Brendan Maher is pictured ahead of the AIB GAA Munster Senior Hurling Club Championship Final where they face Ballygunner on Sunday, November 24th at Páirc Uí Rinn.
AIB is in its 29th year sponsoring the GAA Club Championship and is delighted to continue to support the Junior, Intermediate and Senior Championships across football, hurling and camogie.