Thurles Sarsfields march on to Munster decider against De La Salle

AIB Munster Club Senior Hurling S/F

AIB Munster Club Senior Hurling S/F

Thurles Sarsfields 2-20 Cork Sarsfields 2-15

Thurles Sarsfields marched on to the AIB Munster senior club final with a gritty performance against their Cork namesakes at Semple Stadium on Sunday afternoon last – a goal from substitute Richie Ruth in injury time sealing victory, just when it seemed that extra time could be on the cards.

In what was a very fine contest full of thrilling moments, the Tipperary standard bearers were certainly the better team, but took some time to put the game beyond the experienced Cork lads, for whom defeat was a bitter pill to swallow. Former Cork star Pat Ryan’s men had bagged 1-4 in the last ten minutes to force what they thought would be a draw, with extra time to come. But, Ruth struck gold in the 31st minute after Michael Cahill had blistered through the Cork defence and passed off to the attacker who sweetly struck past keeper Alan Kennedy from a tight angle.

Victory was no more than Thurles Sarsfields deserved, but having twice opened up sizeable leads in either half, they allowed the Cork men to get back into the game – the loss of midfielder Michael Gleeson through injury just after the re-start playing a significant part in the Rebel resurgence in the closing stages with his influence gone

This was a perfect day for hurling – dry, with a firm sod and little or no breeze to worry about. And, both teams came to Semple Stadium to play hurling with 39 scores materialising between them and only one wide separating them – Thurles 8; Cork 7. It was also a day for intriguing match-up’s with Kevin O’Gorman charged with responsibility for dealing with Rebel giant Michael Cussen – he held him scoreless; while Danny Kearney was sent to marshall Lar Corbett – he didn’t hold him scoreless.

Indeed, Corbett’s superb goal in the 7th minute was reminiscent of the attacker at his best as he plucked the ball from the sky on the 65 metre line and burst right through the heart of the defence before firing a brilliant goal from just inside the 21.

It was just what Thurles needed too as Cork Sarsfields had come out with all guns blazing firing over 0-3 from Cian McCarthy, Daniel Roche and McCarthy again compared to a Pa Bourke free for Thurles. Bourke added another before Lar’s superb goal which really brought the 2,934 attendance to their feet gave Thurles the lead for the first time.

Cork Sarsfields were not too put out by the setback and they hit back with Cian McCarthy – an effort which was cancelled by Michael Gleeson following a lovely pass from Bourke. Then, Pa could have goalled in the 12th when he raced onto a long delivery from Padraic Maher and struck for the net. However, keeper Alan Kennedy made a fine save and Bourke had to be content with a point instead.

The sides were level in the 12th minute when Eoin Quigley came from midfield to fire Cork Sarsfields first goal after it seemed that the Thurles men had beaten away their advances. Quigley was persistent though and further scores from Cian McCarthy and Gavin O’Loughlin returned to the initiative Leeside – temporarily so.

Thurles Sarsfields have shown this ability to cut loose and destroy sides in minutes – they threatened to do the same just before the break as they hit seven points without reply to open up a five point advantage. A goal at this stage could have killed off the Cork challenge but Thurles had to be content with two super Pa Bourke scores, Aidan McCormack repeating his County Final form with three excellent points, and Lar Corbett and Michael O’Brien also chipping in.

Johnny Enright was having a huge influence on proceedings as was Padraic Maher with Enright’s supply of ammunition proving crucial. The veteran turned in a Man of the Match performance with his silken skills and reading of the game coming to the fore time and again.

Cork Sarsfields sensed the danger and even opted to go for goal from a 21 yard free in the 21st minute – an effort beaten away by Patrick McCormack. The custodian was called into action again just before the break when he dived full length and high to deny a Ronan Murphy piledriver from rattling the net. Given that Cork were to add Cian McCarthy and Eoin Quigley points before the break, McCormack’s save meant that Thurles held a 1-11 to 1-8 advantage at the break – a lead they were good for, but had to work very hard for.

Cork Sarsfields lost Danny Kearney at the interval having gotten injured just before the break and it wasn’t long before Michael Gleeson followed him for Thurles. He actually lasted 11 minutes but was trying to walk off a leg injury from a loose pull very early on, and never recovered.

The Thurles and Cork lads had traded two apiece before Gleeson departed – Pa Bourke and Johnny Enright, against Tadhg Og Murphy and Ronan Murphy. Then, Aidan McCormack and Gavin O’Loughlin traded as well, but Thurles came good with Johnny Enright, Pa Bourke and a super score from Enright again put daylight between the sides. It was just as well too as Eoin Quigley raced from midfield to beat Paddy McCormack with his second goal in the 19th minute – a real fillip to Cork Sarsfields.

As end game neared, the tension mounted. The Cork lads sensed blood and they hit Eoin Murphy and Cian McCarthy points to edge to within a point of the home side. Ger ‘Redser’ O’Grady was in the fray at this stage and he caught, turned a smacked over a beauty to break the Cork sequence.

But, Cork were rolling and were piling on the pressure, helped by a number of rather soft frees too it has to be said. Cian McCarthy had two pointed frees from close range to level the game – Cussen being the recipient of rather soft ones.

Extra time looked on the cards at this juncture, but nobody had counted on sub Richie Ruth moving into an advantageous position as Michael Cahill advance towards the Cork goal. Cahill palmed off to Ruth who cut inside and struck a fine goal from a tight angle. Game over.

It certainly was over after the puckout when Aidan McCormack returned the sliothar between the posts. It would now take at least two scores to beat Thurles Sarsfields and the Cork lads just hadn’t the time to find them. Anyway, a Johnny Enright free settled the matter and it was fitting that the midfielder should have the final say, having had such a major role in the Thurles win.

Thurles Sarsfields: P McCormack, S Maher, K O’Gorman, D Maher, D Kennedy, P Maher, M Cahill, M Gleeson 0-1, J Enright 0-4, P Bourke 0-7, J Corbett, L Corbett 1-1, M O’Brien 0-1, D Maher, A McCormack 0-5. Subs: J Maher for M Gleeson; R Ruth 1-0 for J Corbett; G O’Grady 0-1 for J Maher; S Cahill for A McCormack.

Cork Sarsfields: A Kennedy, D Kenneally, J Barry, C O’Sullivan, D Roche 0-1, R Ryan, C Leahy, D Kearney, E Quigley 2-1, G O’Loughlin 0-2, C McCarthy 0-6, R Murphy 0-1, T O Murphy 0-1, M Cussen, R O’Driscoll. Subs: E O’Sullivan for D Kearney; K Murphy for R O’Driscoll; G O’Reilly-Lynch for C Leahy; W Kearney for R Murphy.

Referee: M Wadding (Waterford)