Culbáire: Loughmore rally gains third title

Nothing sweeter than a one-point title - or worse than a loss of similar margin. The contrasting emotions were felt on the double at the stadium last Sunday as both senior and intermediate finals had the minimum advantage and deficit.

Nothing sweeter than a one-point title - or worse than a loss of similar margin. The contrasting emotions were felt on the double at the stadium last Sunday as both senior and intermediate finals had the minimum advantage and deficit.

The joy belonged to Loughmore-Castleiney and Ballina over Nenagh and Moyne-Templetuohy. Victory now sets up a Munster tie with Na Piarsaigh of Limerick for a club with football on its agenda in the meantime. Ballina will bring the north’s senior brigade to fourteen in 2014.

The losers in each case battled for rescue right up to the last whistle. Frustration had been their lot in the opening game as Martin Kelly’s free struck a post.

In the day’s main feature Nenagh’s quest for a leveller or even a winning goal failed to produce the free that so often emerges in those circumstances.

The long-time leaders slumped in realisation of failure while the ecstatic victors hugged in knowledge of triumph - one saw the same reaction from their 1988 veterans in the stand.

A season of trying to find their best form saw it crucially achieved in a second half. Earlier inaccuracy was cast aside in a period typified by Noel McGrath finding the range with assurance and having no lack of fellow scorers - in particular Liam’s match-turning goal.

Their loss of Eddie Connolly fuelled determination all round, his position more than filled to great effect by the flair and defensive leadership of John Meagher.

Eire Og were probably the favourites going into the decider.

A CV containing success against holders Sarsfields and predecessors Drom & Inch was strong evidence of their quality as competitors and ball players.

By contrast the Mid final would have seen Drom & Inch rated the Mid’s main contender for county honours.

Loughmore-Castleiney’s path to last Sunday was less colourful if sufficient for progress through each stage. There was the thought, however, that a final had the capacity to rouse them for a special effort - nobody has ever doubted their spirit. If ever a team would gain cohesion and purpose from being a close-knit combination, they were obvious candidates.

The large quota of 2007 winners had the incentive to reverse the slide that followed - and the younger lot could bring freshness.

To begin with and well into the second period Eire Og had a winning look about them or at least the better chance.

A succession of wides by their opponents left the interim edge at four points, through the leaders scarcely added to a bright start highlighted by Paddy Murphy’s goal and a six-up advantage twice gained.

Already it could be noted that John Meagher was holding things together at the back.

Eire Og optimism grew when, on resumption, they forced a penalty. A goal would have been a major boost but Michael Heffernan’s drive was too high. Enter Noel McGrath, after a modest first half, to display striking and target-finding just when needed. Nenagh’s four-up was down to two andf it was all to play for.

John Meagher’s long one was fielded by Liam McGrath against rival hands and he wheeled away before giving McNamara no hope. It was a goal to live in the memory like Pat’s in ‘88.

The lead, and the odds, were now reversed. Noel had company in Tomas and Ciaran plus Cian Hennessy in matching Heffernan and Murphy points.

The leveller escaped Nenagh, a possible ‘65 not awarded also.

Evan Sweeney dodged into space to double the gap and a pointed free had no successor for Nenagh in a hectic end game.

The title is in the Mid for the fifth year in-a-row. Their local defeat won’t bother Loughmore-Castleiney no more than the Munster loss is bothering Clare.

Na Piarsaigh’s arrival will renew concentration and ambition to equal the 2007 provincial victory.

Our defeat by Limerick last June will be an extra motivation at club championship level.

Our representations will bid to match Sarsfields’ win over Kilmallock a year ago. Status as victors in Tipp should see Loughmore-Castleiney cautiously confident against Dowling, Downes and company.

Sympathy is due to Nenagh on a hard-to-take disappointment after taking prestigious scalps on their way to last Sunday - a one-point defeat way back in 1962 still rankles with me. Oh, those lucky Sars!

The intermediate final was a fast-moving encounter of good quality in the quest for senior grade elevation. Moyne-Templetuohy seemed set for reward when they hit excellent scores in the third quarter, but Ballina came up with two crucial goals in the period and survived the final free to prompt happy celebrations.

Captain David Hickey omitted nobody in his litany of thanks!

League Revision

So, the proposed eight-county league grouping has been successfully disputed. The chief objectors were Wexford and Offaly, due to be excluded from the elite octet.

I have - modestly - argued for years to go back to the older system of six-team groupings to accommodate twelve - and with no classification into superior and inferior.

Last Saturday’s Central Council session has come up with a pair of sextets but in a rather curious fashion.

Added on to the five matches will be another two to be played against counties of similar grade in the other six.

The gradings will be in A, B and C levels according to perceived standard on past performance (whether in league or also in championship is not clear).

So, if Tipp are in, say, A category - not guaranteed, perhaps, on 2013 results - we’d have the regular five outings plus two against similarly-rated sides from the other group.

Seven games plus semi-finals between the top two of each echelon and, of course, a final.

I do not see the case for those extra two games. Repeat clashes at semi-final and final stages would appear to be odds-on. A maximum total of nine games is surely excessive with a start probably advanced into February.

Where, then, the Crystal series?

It would hardly be feasible.

Many would see it as no great loss, but it has been a pre-Fitzgibbon Cup lead in for the third level colleges and a pipe-opener for the counties, Ditto for the Walsh Cup in Leinster.