Kevin McCarthy’s late point in extra time secured Toomevara a draw with Thurles Sarsfields in an absorbing Tipperary Water County Under-21A Hurling Championship semi-final at a rain-sodden Borrisoleigh on Sunday afternoon - it was a fitting outcome to a contest either side would have been devastated to lose.
Tipperary Water County Under-21A Hurling Championship Semi-Final
Thurles Sarsfields 2-13 Toomevara 1-16 (after extra time)
Firstly, full credit to both sides who produced such an enthralling encounter in the most difficult of conditions. An already heavy sod became a skating rink after a fifteen minute deluge at the start of the second half, but the two teams somehow managed to cope with the situation.
Jack Delaney’s free for Toome in the 63rd minute levelled after Bill Darcy looked to have fired over the winner for Sarsfields a minute earlier - thereby leading to extra time.
At the start of this competition neither of these sides were tipped as potential county champions, but both have shown admirable grit and determination in upsetting the odds to triumph at divisional level and after last Sunday’s encounter both will fancy their chances of a county pennant if they can overcome the immediate opposition.
Toome looked to be picking up where they left off in the North final when inside thirty seconds Bob Delaney had the ball in the Thurles net.
With the strong downfield breeze behind they could not have asked for more, but the Sarsfields defence stood up well to the barrage and with Conor Stakelum accurate off frees they kept on their rivals’ heels.
After ten minutes it was 1-1 to 0-3 - a Stakelum free accounted for the Blues’ tally while Jack Delaney, who was having a stormer for Toome, got their point.
Three points on the trot from Josh McCarthy, Jack Delaney and Eoin Grace move Toome 1-4 to 0-3 clear at the start of the second quarter, but after Conor Stakelum and Delaney swapped points Sarsfields got a great boost when Eoin Purcell, who was proving a huge thorn in the Toomevara side, netted off a delivery by his brother Rory.
Stakelum and Rory Purcell pointed to put Sarsfields ahead 1-6 to 1-5 after twenty-three minutes, but before the break Jack Delaney crowned a marvelous first half with two further Toomevara points to nudge his side ahead 1-7 to 1-6 at the interval.
The Thurles lads had to be happy with their situation given that they would have the strong breeze behind them on the change-over while Toome’s prospects were not helped by some very erratic first half shooting (eight wides).
The change-over, however, saw Toome enjoy the better of the third quarter as the rain poured down. Points by Delaney, Kevin McCarthy and Seán Flaherty to Conor Stakelum’s brace from frees for Sarsfields extended Toome’s advantage slightly, but Sarsfields got a vital break in the 42nd minute when Conor Stakelum’s sixty-five skidded into the Toome net to put his side 2-8 to 1-10 ahead.
A Jack Delaney free a minute later levelled for Toome, but then there was a huge setback for Sarsfields as Rory Purcell was red-carded by referee Fergal Horgan for an awkward tackle on Liam Ryan, a decision that incensed the Thurles bench.
Yet it was fourteen-man Sarsfields who scored next - Eoin Purcell whipped over a 53rd minute point. Rory Brislane countered for Toome a minute later before, right at the start of injury time, Bill Darcy looked to have notched a winner for Sarsfields only for Jack Delaney to level again for Toome in the 63rd minute.
Sarsfields, now restored to fifteen players, had the momentum in the first half of extra time, but wasted a few chances and finished with points from Conor Stakelum and Jack Lanigan for a 2-12 to 1-13 lead.
It hardly seemed adequate and when Kevin McCarthy and Jack Delaney pointed for Toome inside three minutes of resuming it looked as though the Greyhounds would drive on for victory.
The Thurles lads showed great heart, however, as they dug in to keep their hopes alive.
Conor Stakelum’s point after seven minutes had them ahead again, but justice was done when Kevin McCarthy levelled for Toome with a minute to go. And, that’s how it stayed.
It would have been hard on either team to lose, but Sarsfields face into the replay without red-carded Rory Purcell, a huge loss given the youthfulness of their side. They had many heroic performances particularly in defence with Michael Purcell a towering presence, ably assisted by Cathal Moloney and Jack Derby. Conor Stakelum was an experienced leader of the attack with Eoin Purcell and Rory Purcell also to the fore.
Toome’s lapses in front of goal will worry them, but they will have the chance to make amends in the replay. Jack Delaney was star of the show for them, but Kevin McCarthy, Jake Ryan, Liam Ryan, Eoin Grace and Rory Brislane also played key roles.
Thurles Sarsfields: Matt O’Brien, Kieran Moloney, Jack Derby, Cathal Moloney, Seosamh Ryan, Michael Purcell, Barry McGrath, Conor Cassidy, Harry Fitzgibbon, Rory Purcell (0-1), Evan McCormack, Billy Darcy (0-1), Eoin Purcell (1-1), Conor Stakelum (1-9, 1-8 frees), Jack Lanigan (0-1). Subs: Cian Stakelum Mathew Kelly, Kevin Bracken.
Toomevara: Conor Grace, Tomás O’Farrell, Séamus O’Farrell, Niall O’Farrell, Jake Ryan, Liam Ryan, Darragh Spillane, Jack Ryan, Josh McCarthy (0-1), Bob Delaney (1-0), Jack Delaney (0-9, 0-3 frees), Eoin Grace (0-1), Kevin McCarthy (0-3, 0-1 frees), Seán Flaherty (0-1), Rory Brislane (0-1). Subs: Mikey Delaney, Alan Ryan.
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Knockavilla Kickhams).