By Michael Moynihan
Borris-Ileigh manager Johnny Kelly ponders the question.
A turning point in the season that ends on Sunday, in the All-Ireland club final?
“We focused on the very first championship game against Clonoulty/Rossmore,” he says.
“It was a big one for us, with one game in April. We had a lot of work done and our performance that day in the first half, it’s not a turning point but it was a great foundation to put in and to take that day.
“If there was a turning point, I would say — and this might sound strange — it would be 15 minutes into the North final and we were being beaten.
“I realised — not that this was gone, but the most important thing we could do once that game was over was to straight away change our focus and highlight the positives because there were mitigating factors for our performance.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t go out to win, it was just the nature of that championship that we were five weekends in a row, and then we had a couple of young lads that were playing minor the day before — that all led into a poor performance.
“That day and that week ahead was a turning point for us to clear the air and set sail for the county championship which was our priority at the start of the year.”
He’s been here before, of course, with Portumna.
“Our first All-Ireland final, I was actually a player at the time. We had been in an All-Ireland semi-final two years before against Dunloy and we didn’t handle that build up well.
“We had played a lot of games through that year and felt we were right but we weren’t, really.
“It was more psychological. I think the fact that we had gone through that experience against Dunloy stood to us when we got to the semi-final in 2006 and then ultimately we became champions by beating Newtownshandrum.
“It was experience that helped us and you had to go through that. I said here on a number of occasions, recent experience is as good as anything and if you have good experiences recently, it stands to us and that’s really where we’re focused on.”
Are Borris where Ballyhale were in one of those All-Ireland club finals, the 2010 decider against Portumna?
“We had met in 2009 in Thurles in the All-Ireland semi-final and Shamrocks were favourties for that, even though we were champions.
“The underdogs tag that day suited Portumna and we got a great display out of our guys and ultimately went on and won the All-Ireland final.
“That was our third year on the road and we had a feeling that the pressure got to us to deliver the three in a row. It is quite pressurised to do two in a row or three in a row.
“Portumna delivered the second one and then we’re really pushing on for the third one.
Ballyhale are now in that position where they want to put back-to-back titles. They’re the best team in the country by a mile and have been for the last three years.
“It’s within their grasp to take that two in a row but we really will have a say in that.”
That brings us to Ballyhale. What did he make of their tight semi-final win over Slaughtneil?
“The physicality of it first of all. I’d agree with the commentary from Ballyhale that there’s no poor team at this stage.
“Slaughtneil are obviously a quality side and play a certain way. They are a big physical team and have lots of pace as well.
“For Ballyhale to dig in and to come out of that can’t be understated.
“The psychological lift they’ll get from that because going to a good field in Newry, but a tight field by all accounts, and to come out of that battle will stand to them as well.
“Obviously there may be some of the players disappointed with their display that day and they’ll look to rectify that on Sunday.
“It’s something I’ll be speaking to the players about in the lead up to the game.
“There’s nothing going to faze Ballyhale Shamrocks. The experience that they have there is age-old.
“They can play it every way and they’ll take a lower profile going into this All-Ireland final compared to Borris-Ileigh, because we are the story if you want, coming from relative obscurity whereas Ballyhale will be happy to sit back and let Borris-Ileigh take the lead on that.
“Having said that, it’s still a game and it still has to be fought on the day. There have been a number of lopsided All-Ireland finals over the last number of years but we’re not thinking about winning the All-Ireland final, we are thinking about performing and keeping that game interesting and entertaining, first of all, and if it takes us to a win then we’ll take that.”
The reference to a performance is interesting given — at times — some backhanded praise for Borris’s performances.
“We have played really well at times,” says Kelly.
“Sometimes through the Tipperary championship we would have heard the commentary that it was a dour game, it wasn’t a good game that didn’t take off.
“There’s a beauty in that as well, that we didn’t allow teams to take off and that didn’t get picked up by a lot of commentators — and we were happy that it didn’t — but the cat’s out of the bag now.
“We set up a certain way and they see that. Ballyhale will obviously analyse our game and we’ll analyse them, so there will be no secret — maybe there will be on the day but certainly we’re happy the way we set up and if we can express ourselves we will.
“We’d aim to express ourselves and play an entertaining game.
“But there’s a lot to it, heart is key and if you set up in a certain way and certain guys aren’t playing too well, it still gives you the ability to stay in a game until guys eventually fire.”