Inspired by a magnificent performance from former Tipperary captain Brendan Maher, Borris-Ileigh’s strong finish saw them prevail by 1-21 to 1-14 after a fascinating contest with St Thomas last Sunday in Limerick.
The seven-point margin was a far from accurate reflection of how closely fought this All-Ireland semi-final truly was.
Leading by one with 20 minutes to play, having hit three unanswered points for the very first time, St Thomas were in a decent position considering quite a few of their star names had been kept quiet by a resolute Borris-Ileigh defensive unit.
Tommy Ryan’s man-marking job on David Burke had kept the Galway star very much on the periphery, while an early blow to the head did not help matters also, but when Darragh Burke landed a super score from play and followed it up with a free less than a minute later, it looked as if St Thomas were timing their run to perfection.
Unfortunately for Kevin Lally’s side, this could not have been further from the truth. Despite creating just as many scoring chances in the closing stages, with Shane Cooney performing heroics under intense pressure in the half back line, St Thomas were left to rue five wides in succession, which allowed Borris-Ileigh to grab the momentum and establish a four-point lead.
With Dan McCormack reading the play excellently as a deep-lying sweeper for the Tipp champions, chances became harder to come by as the clock ticked away and St Thomas became more and more desperate. David Burke finally found some space in stoppage time to make it just a two-point game, but Borris-Ileigh had more in the tank.
Brendan Maher’s laser-like focus saw him knock over a sensational point with half a stick after only moments earlier breaking his hurl, drilling over his eighth placed ball of the game. Borris-Ileigh’s athletic ability to engineer frees had been a key factor throughout, and JD Devaney capped a memorable evening for Johnny Kelly’s men with a solo goal.
Devaney’s electric pace caused a multitude of problems for St Thomas, and he had almost carved out a goal chance in the opening minutes. However, it was St Thomas who took the early advantage through Bernard Burke and Conor Cooney points, only for Borris-Ileigh to grab the advantage by the sixth minute.
A classy goal from Eanna Burke lit up proceedings after Fintan Burke had provided a deft assist, and the same player almost had a second major from an acute angle moments later as a shot whistled across the face of goal. Two wides followed though and Borris-Ileigh hit three on the trot, as Conor Kenny proved a more than able target man at right half forward.
St Thomas responded well. Conor Cooney hit another majestic strike from long range, but the final 10 minutes of the half mostly belonged to Borris-Ileigh, who withdrew to the changing rooms 0-11 to 1-6 ahead, with the Maher brothers deadly accurate from frees and Devaney chipping in with a classy point.
St Thomas’ stickwork was sometimes excellent, but too often they were forced into ruck situations, with Ray McCormack proving a tough nut to crack in Borris-Ileigh’s half-back line. Fintan Burke provided an aerial threat and Eanna Burke and Oisín Flannery looked menacing when the ball was worked through once or twice.
St Thomas again secured important scores at the start of the second half to level matters for the fifth time, but Conor Kenny again proved his worth in winning a free that Kevin Maher popped over, before Brendan Maher clipped over a ’65 after Devaney had been blocked by Cian Mahoney.
Cathal Burke was another getting through a power of work in the St Thomas rearguard, but it was Shane Cooney who drove over St Thomas’ next score on 37 minutes after playing a one-two with his brother Conor. Mahoney and Bernard Burke were involved in setting up Darragh Burke for another leveller, before Burke added only his second free of the evening.
The stage was set for St Thomas to drive on into their third All-Ireland final appearance in eight years, but Borris-Ileigh were worthy winners in the end with a performance brimful of intensity and clever tactical hurling. Brendan Maher’s all-action heroics gave the Munster champions the edge as they go forward to take on the daunting challenge of title holders Ballyhale Shamrocks.
BORRIS-ILEIGH : J McCormack; S Burke, P Stapleton, L Ryan; S McCormack, B Maher (0-10, 6fs, 2 ‘65s ), R McCormack; T Ryan, D McCormack; Kieran Maher (0-1 ), J Kelly (0-1 ), C Kenny (0-3 ); Kevin Maher (0-5, 3fs ), N Kenny, J Devaney (1-1 ). Subs: J Hogan for N Kenny (57 mins ), C Cowan for Kelly (61 mins ).
ST THOMAS: J Barrett; C Mahoney, S Skehill, D Sherry; D Cooney, S Cooney (0-1 ), C Burke; J Regan (0-1 ), David Burke (0-1 ); C Cooney (0-3 ), Darragh Burke (0-5, 3fs, 1 ’65 ) , B Burke (0-2 ); F Burke, E Burke (1-0 ), O.Flannery (0-1 ).
REFEREE : Paud O’Dwyer.