Pádraic Maher pictured in action at Cusack Park, Ennis. Photo: Eamonn McGee
As the Thurles Sarsfields players left their dressing room on Sunday afternoon in Cusack Park, Ennis the lads looked absolutely devastated. This defeat (2-22 to 4-18 aet) suffered at the hands of Ballyea in the AIB Munster Senior Club Hurling Championship semi-final was as cruel and as heart-breaking as they come. With less than ten minutes to play Sarsfields led by seven points, but found themselves nursing a defeat following a frantic finish and extra-time.
Thurles coach Paddy McCormack smiled a fallen hero’s smile of resignation as he greeted the assembled press. That smile did not quite reach his eyes and faded completely as the Sarsfields man searched for the right words to describe how his panel was feeling.
"We are devastated. In normal time we were seven points up at one stage and that was the time to push on, but, in fairness to Ballyea, they came back. Every time that we went ahead of them they came back. They kept coming back and they were strong and physical - they got a bit of momentum in extra-time. At the end of the day they scored more than us; they were the best team on the day so fair play to them. And, the best of luck to them in the Munster final," Paddy McCormack said - coach McCormack is joined on the Thurles Sarsfields management team by manager Tommy Maher and selector Connie Maher.
"We can harp back on different things and all that, but at the end of the day they came out and they won the game. They showed an awful lot of real, true spirit. They only won their first county final last weekend so fair play to them. We had no excuses on the day. They deserved their victory."
Paddy McCormack is a measured man; an individual who is typically as careful with his words as he is with his emotions - normally you will find no air leaking out of the tyres. But, on this occasion, it was obvious that the Thurles man was hurting.
"Naturally, when we look back on it, it will yeah,” Paddy McCormack admitted.
“Seven points up - I think that was the most that we had. We needed to push on and we missed a couple of scores here and there, but at the end of the day we don't have any excuses. Fair play to them," McCormack added.
"Fair play to our lads they bounced back - Ballyea went a few points up after the early goal and the penalty, but we got back and went seven points ahead. But, we probably should have pressed forward. It's history now so we wish Ballyea the very best of luck in the Munster final.”
When Pádraic Maher thundered home an equalising goal in the second half of extra-time Thurles found themselves level, but Ballyea found the late scores to seal a famous win. Sarsfields, however, were left cursing some spurned opportunities which could have worked to rescue the situation.
"We got it back level, but you can torture yourself looking back on all of those things,” Paddy McCormack explained.
“At the end of the day you have to take all of those scores. They missed scores as well in fairness to them. In games like that there are always going to be misses on both sides. They missed less than us so they go through to the Munster final."
Sarsfields’ ambition was, of course, to try to emulate their 2012 campaign which saw Thurles take the provincial crown, but, sadly, it was not to be.
"For any club that comes out of any county the next thing on the agenda is to try and win the provincial championship. And, yes, naturally, we would have liked to have done what we did in 2012, but it's not (to be) for this year. Ballyea progress to the final now and fair play to them," Paddy McCormack said before he paid tribute to a group of Thurles Sarsfields players who, it should not be forgotten, have won three Tipperary titles in-a-row and have done so in terrific style.
"It's great to win a county final and it's the first thing that we set out to do,” Paddy McCormack said.
“That Dan Breen Cup is always the most important thing to our club at the beginning of every year. Our lads are three years on the road and we are after winning three in-a-row (of county championships). That's fantastic and that can never be taken away from them. Fair play to them - they worked very, very hard. They are great players, they are from great families and they are great people. They will get back again."