Borris-Ileigh's Kenny relishing All-Ireland Final challenge
By John Harrington
Conor Kenny typified Borris-Ileigh’s conviction in Sunday’s AIB All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final victory over St. Thomas’.
The powerful half-forward worked tirelessly throughout as he thundered into rucks, dominated under the high ball, and scored three points from play in a man-of-the-match performance.
Such was the self-belief he played with, that it was almost disarming to hear him admit after the game that the prospect of playing in an All-Ireland Final was something he still hasn’t really got his head around.
“I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest,” said Kenny after Sunday’s victory. “It’s the stuff of dreams to go there with your club especially this team.
“I never thought at the start of the year we would have ended up in Croke Park. I would have thought you were mad if you told me that but that’s how things have worked out and we’re just delighted.
“It wasn’t too long ago that we were beat in a North Final by Kiladangan and well beat. I remember going back to training the following Saturday and saying, ‘What’s going to happen to us?’
“We just had a meeting and cleared the air and said we would take one game at a time and this is where the journey has taken us now to Croke Park and I just can’t wait. We know the task ahead of us but it’s something we’ll relish.”
Momentum is a great asset in team sport and Borris-Ileigh most certainly have it now after beating the odds to overcome Ballygunner in the Munster Final and now St. Thomas’ in the All-Ireland Final.
Self-belief has always come easily to a club with a proud hurling tradition, but now its coursing through their veins with greater urgency than ever before because they’ve proven themselves against opposition of the highest quality.
“If we can get it to the last 10 minutes, we can always grind out wins and that was no more than today,” said Kenny.
“You see Brendan scoring a point after scoring a free and it’s just unbelievable. It’s the stuff of dreams, really. I saw him throwing the hurl in the air and I was like, ‘Is he celebrating or what is he doing?’ I think he had a broken hurley after the free and to score a point with half a hurley is nearly unbelievable.”
Experienced players like Maher, Paddy Stapleton, Dan McCormack, and Kenny himself have been to the fore for Borris-Ileigh during their march to the All-Ireland Final.
But just as crucial has been the contribution of a clutch of fearless youngsters, most especially school-boy corner-forwards James Devaney and Kevin Maher who hit a combined tally of 1-6 in Sunday’s win.
They both have pace and skill to burn, but it’s the manner in which they complement that silk with steel that makes the teenage duo such formidable double-act.
“Kevin Maher put in some shift today around the middle of the field,” said Kenny. “Hooks and blocks is what we pride ourselves on and I think they were fairly good there again today.
“The two boys (Maher and Devaney) are playing Harty Cup again on Wednesday (for Our Lady’s secondary school, Templemore) so hopefully they come through that not too bad.”
Borris-Ileigh will be underdogs yet again when they play reigning champions Ballyhale Shamrocks in the AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Final on January 19.
The Kilkenny team is stacked with players who have played at the very highest level and know exactly what it takes to win on the biggest day of all.
Kenny concedes that gives their opponents an advantage, but he’s confident nevertheless that Borris-Ileigh can produce another upset.
“None of us have played in an All-Ireland final and Ballyhale have the trump card on us there,” said Kenny.
“They know the ground, they know the route, they know the field. Not many of our lads have played in Croke Park.
“At the end of the day, it’s a hurling game and a hurling field. You can build it up all you want but it’s just a hurling field. All we want to do is perform. There’s no point in going up there and not giving a performance.
“We’ll knuckle down now and do a bit of homework on them, where they’re strong and where we can get at them but it’s just about going there and trying to perform.
“I think it suits us being underdogs. I think ever since the county quarter-final we’ve been underdogs. We don’t read into that at all.
“We know what’s inside the four walls of the dressing room. We’ve great heart and good hurlers as well so it’s about going out there and doing ourselves justice.
“The buzz around the parish will be unbelievable."