Gritty and plucky Loughmore Castleiney did it the hard way on Sunday afternoon last when they claimed their third County senior hurling title at Semple Stadium.
‘Such a perfect day’ go the lyrics from that famous song - so it was for the champions as they feted their silver jubilee team on the day and added a few more legends to the ever growing list from the current crop. And, it was the stuff of legends too as Nenagh Eire Og, who had made all of the first half running, came in search of an equalising point late on and camped in siege in the Loughmore Castleiney rearguard. It was heart in the mouth stuff, but at the end of the day the pundits who predicted that a neck and neck encounter going down the final straight, would result in a Loughmore Castleiney victory, were correct. Tight games generally tend to fall in their favour and Nenagh Eire Og felt the power of the defensive wall they become when the clock is ticking and they are defending a lead.
The game had been a rather pedestrian one in the first half, but once the turnaround was complete there was a very noticable upping of the tempo. Loughmore Castleiney turned the screw and it wasn’t long before they had eliminated the four point interval disadvantage with Noel McGrath starring and his cousin Liam grabbing the all important goal with a flash of brilliance at the end of the third quarter.
A thrilling, nail-biting last quarter materialised - it was real edge of the seat fare and it fell to captain Ciaran McGrath and Evan Sweeney, son of the 1988 captain Eamon, to seal the win for Loughmore Castleiney as Nenagh Eire Og challenged hard to force a draw. They could possibly have had a free too in the dying moments, but referee John McCormack, in his first final at this level, held his nerve, and his breath, until the final whistle was to sound.
The contrast in scenes was as stark as ever witnessed on the pitch afterwards. Naturally, Loughmore Castleiney were in seventh heaven and they lapped up the acclaim with their people as they made Semple Stadium their own. Yards away Nenagh Eire Og players stood crestfallen with heavy hearts and weary limbs. They had played 12 championship games in the season - twice the number Loughmore Castleiney had played.
“We have many regrets but no excuses. We gave it everything and lost to a great Loughmore team,” said Nenagh Boss Liam Heffernan.
“I am so proud of what we have achieved and we still have the football,” Delcan Laffen.
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