Henry Shefflin's side will do what they have to do as Ballyhale go in search of All-Ireland Club hurling glory
AIB All-Ireland Club SHC final: Ballyhale Shamrocks v Borris-Ileigh (tomorrow, 2pm, Croke Park, live on TG4)
THE pride of the north may have fallen short in their bid to dethrone Ballyhale, but the ‘cocks of the north’ will fancy their chances after seeing the Kilkenny men humanised.
Borris-Ileigh, known by the above nickname because of their feathered mascot, Paddy the cock hen, and their positioning in north Tipperary, are aiming to bridge a 33-year gap back to their 1987 success that remains the last All-Ireland victory by a club from the premier county.
Only Toomevara in 1994 have even reached a final, and yet if there is one thing that a Tipperary hurler will relish it’s getting a skelp at Kilkenny men.
Except skelping doesn’t bother Ballyhale all that much. They, like true champions, may not have shown their very best against Slaughtneil two weeks ago, but they displayed the ability to take it whatever way the Ulster champions wanted to give it and still get through.
The result was in greater doubt than most would have anticipated it would be with two minutes to play, but when Colin Fennelly was presented with a wall of maroon shirts in a one-point game, he did what needed to be done.
None of which bodes particularly well for Borris-Ileigh. Because, like Corofin in the football decider, it’s been a feature of Ballyhale’s last two All-Ireland titles that they’ve saved their best for the big day in Croke Park.
The scary bit is that only seven of the starting team that wiped the floor with Kilmallock in 2015 started in Páirc Esler. The reigning champions annihilated St Thomas’ in last year’s decider, hitting a record 2-28, and they did it with a team that is only picking up pace.
What they will assume is that Adrian Mullen, Eoin Reid, Brian and Eoin Cody will all have enough about them in a few years’ time to make the inevitable ends for TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly into less catastrophic blows.
Borris-Ileigh have been on an astonishing adventure and had the gas in the tank to finish off St Thomas’ after a semi-final that always seemed destined to go to the wire.
The sides were level nine times in the second half but with Brendan Maher’s already infamous broken-hurled intervention helping seal the deal, they have another narrow win in the bank.
They’d been big underdogs heading into the Munster final against Ballygunner, a game in which Maher served notice that the big county season hadn’t left him nothing in the tank.
He’s been imperious throughout, although quite how this goes for him will depend on his role. Having shackled TJ Reid in the inter-county All-Ireland final back in August, it’s probable that he’ll be given the same job. Dan McCormack will drop back to cover him, allowing Maher to go off and join the Borris attack.
Ballyhale will want to cover his raids from deep, while defensively it will be the twin threat of Conor Kenny and teenager James Devaney, who netted the clinching late goal against St Thomas’, that the holders will want to have the closest eyes on.
The speed and sharpness of the whole Ballyhale front six was something Slaughtneil shut down fairly well, but it’s a different thing outside Croke Park, where the spaces are harder to fill.
Henry Shefflin’s side will do what they have to do.