27 Sept 2022

Difficult to choose a winner of county Tipperary senior hurling championship

JK Brackens looking forward to first-ever county quarter-final appearance

Cathal Bourke

Cathal Bourke contributed some vital scores for Clonoulty/Rossmore in their defeat of Thurles Sarsfields in the FBD Insurance County Senior Hurling Championship

As if to underline the open, unpredictable nature of this year’s county championship, both preliminary quarter-finals went against the odds. The season is over for Sarsfields and Nenagh while Clonoulty and JK Brackens push on to the last eight.
Brackens’ achievement in getting to a first-ever county quarter-final is major, and thereby noteworthy; Clonoulty, by contrast, are very familiar with this zone so it feels more like a minor upset when they topple Sarsfields.
Having their game moved to Holycross did the west team no harm whatsoever. There were very understandable emotional reasons for avoiding a quick return to the scene of recent tragedy on Tom Semple’s patch. That day of reacquaintance with the Stadium will come for Clonoulty - and will have to be faced - but the allowance of as much time as possible was right and proper.
A major side benefit, however, was getting Sarsfields out of the Stadium and into the tighter confines of Holycross, where limiting space is easier and the game becomes more congested. That was most obvious near the end of this match when Ronan Maher made a return at corner forward but was easily tied up in the heavy traffic in front of the Clonoulty posts.
As a game this was one of the better clashes I’ve seen this year. The slightly diagonal wind seemed to present difficulties with the shooting but otherwise this was a right good contest between two fully-focused sides, one that came down to a knife edge at the end and could have veered either way.
Sarsfields made earliest progress, with Aidan McCormack prominent in their initial lead before Clonoulty warmed to the task and reined them in by the quarter-hour mark. Scores by Ciaran Quirke and Cathal Bourke were particularly noteworthy at this stage.
The exchanges were tight on a day for full-blooded commitment and Sarsfields were to rue some early goal chances that went abegging. Paddy Creedon knifed through the Clonoulty defence at one stage but took the wrong option in trying to link with Pa Bourke; the pass went harmlessly wide for a Clonoulty let-off.
Shortly afterwards Denis Maher fired a shot in from the right corner but hit the side netting, as Clonoulty breathed relief once again. Then Pa Bourke flashed a shot just over the bar. These are the chances that fall your way on the better days and don’t when your luck is out.
Against that, just approaching half-time Jack Ryan sliced open the Sarsfields defence with a penetrating run from outfield before Paddy McCormack brilliantly saved his shot. It was that type of game, with chances at both ends and just the minimum between them at the interval, though Sarsfields had played with that wind advantage.
On resuming, Clonoulty’s marginal lead was short-lived. Within seconds Paddy Creedon got possession and skinned his marker on the way in for the game’s first goal. Immediately David Corbett surged upfield for a great point and Sarsfields were suddenly three-up before the attendance had even time to settle for the second half.
But I admire the combative nature of this Clonoulty side, which just stays on task and refuses to be ruffled. Stephen Ferncombe popped up with a pair of points and Cathal Bourke was another source of scores from play and frees as they came from four down to level the match at the three-quarter mark.
It was clear that this one was going to go to the proverbial wire. Clonoulty went two-up through a Cathal Bourke ‘65 and a Michael Ryan point from play. Back hit Sarsfields, with Aidan McCormack frees tying up the game once more entering the final hectic moments.
A major break at either end now was going to be decisive. Sarsfields had Ronan Maher in attack in a final throw of the dice but Clonoulty’s forwards were looking the more menacing. Just into injury time we had the decisive moment. Padraig White was fouled and after a consultation between the officials the referee signalled a Clonoulty penalty.
What would you do in the circumstances with the sides level and the game into injury time? I guess when you have a deadly sniper like Stephen Ferncombe in your ranks the question is irrelevant. Of course, you go for the jugular and that’s exactly what happened. The shot to the roof of the net had enough zip to leave Paddy McCormack helpless.
Aidan McCormack pulled a point back from a free but there was to be no late salvation for Sarsfields. Paul Maher lobbed a final free into the Clonoulty goal area but in the crowded space there was no way through for Sarsfields and Clonoulty survived for a famous win.
Both teams have had to operate with depleted resources this year for a variety of reasons. Conor Hammersley’s departure to the US on a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship has been a major blow for Clonoulty. He’s been a bright and busy presence on the team for many seasons, at one stage earning a county call-up before injury intervened.
Robert Doyle was out injured as well on Sunday so they had to rejig the defence, where they had big games from the Heffernan brothers and the ever-excellent John O’Keeffe. Cathal Bourke’s return from injury has been a major fillip for the side and others like Jack Ryan, Michael Ryan and Danny Slattery chipped in well on this occasion, while Stephen Ferncombe was the hero at the end.
Clonoulty have that healthy mix of attitude and ability. They may not have inter-county stars at the moment but they do have some quality individuals in a team with a real sense of togetherness. Kiladangan won’t fancy facing them in the quarters.
For Sarsfields, the injury to Ronan Maher has been the biggest detraction and in truth it’s been a stuttering year, where they never developed any consistent form. The likes of Aidan McCormack, Stephen Cahill and Conor Stakelum played useful roles on Sunday. I thought David Corbett over the year had a really solid impact, settling in as a permanent fixture in the defence.
Paddy Creedon produces those little cameos that has one reaching for the superlatives but too often they’re isolated items. Still, he’s young and has the potential to develop. For all their depth of player resources, Sarsfields are struggling to put an effective fifteen together at the moment.

Senseless timing of the two games on Sunday denied patrons the chance to see both matches. All it needed was half an hour adjustment to either tie and then the two were reachable. I despair.
Anyway, Brackens were surely the story of the day, with their late swoop to beat Nenagh in the second of the preliminaries. From reports it appears that Eire Og were cruising midway through the second half but then fell victim to a late surge by the Templemore side.
It’s a stunning reversal for Nenagh and a major scalp for Brackens and Eamon Corcoran, as they line up a first-ever county quarter-final appearance.
Elsewhere Carrick Swan suffered a tantalising defeat in their preliminary quarter-final of the premier intermediate championship, which was played at Boherlahan on Saturday. If tightness is the main requirement for thrills in a game, then this one had it, though the quality was definitely lacking in the hurling.
Deep, very deep, into injury- time Swans seemed to have done enough to carve out what would have been a morale-lifting victory. They were three-up and deservedly so. Silvermines were scrambling to save the day, a Jason Forde free saved in what seemed to be a last chance. But there was another attack and another shot from Forde, which was again saved, only for Ger Leamy to turn the rebound in.
It was frustrating for the south side whose gutsy effort seemed to have earned a just reward. There was annoyance with the additional time played, though it must be said there were many prolonged stoppages – too many and too long when the referee might have demanded more urgency from the medics.
Anyway, the extra-time stayed tight, with the sides level again on the turnover. Even when Silvermines got their second goal, scored by Oran Quirke, Swans rallied again – including a super leveller from Billy Murphy - and penalties looked likely before a late Jason Forde free settled it all.
It was fitting because Forde was the main man of the day, hitting 17 points in total. Aaron Dunne was the highest flier of the Swans, pitching in with 1-6, 1-1 from play.
Taylor Fleming had their second goal and the likes of Eric O’Halloran and Cory Ryan were major threats in attack too. It was a day when Danny O’Hanlon’s presence might have been the difference.
A win would have been a morale boost for the south side but in the longer term not much more because it was always unlikely they’d win out this championship. Their task now is to avoid relegation. I think they have enough spirit in the side to do just that.
Finally, the senior quarter-final draws have just come to hand. Clonoulty drew the short straw in favourites Kiladangan; there’s two tasty all-mid ties in Upperchurch v Brackens and Drom v Loughmore; and finally, an all-North clash in Kilruane v Toomevara.
The games will be played on the weekend of September 24/25.

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