Kiladangan's smash and grab raid wins Tipperary senior hurling title

Historic success for north Tipperary club

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Kiladangan

Kiladangan captain Paul Flynn lifts the Dan Breen Cup after their thrilling county final defeat of Loughmore/Castleiney- Picture: Eamonn McGee

It must be one of the greatest smash and grab jobs ever seen in a county final. With Loughmore ready to celebrate Kiladangan orchestrate a stunning finale to turn the tables of history. 

As climactic endings go this was about as sensational as they get. John McGrath’s late 65 seemed to settle accounts at the end of an extraordinary game. What happened in the next twenty seconds or so will forever haunt Loughmore. 

Barry Hogan wastes no time to launch a massive puckout down the throat of the Loughmore defence. Joe Gallagher fetches and lays off to Bryan McLoughney, whose finish was worthy of its historic import.

For young McLoughney (nephew of the great goalie of the seventies, Pat, a double All Star winner) this was Roy of the Rovers stuff. In a matter of minutes he’d gone from zero to hero. 

Substituted midway through the second half after making no impact on proceedings, he’s reintroduced with five minutes of extra time to play and immediately carves his name in history. 

It was an inspired decision by the management to reintroduce a player already substituted. I could well imagine Bryan McLoughney sitting on the bench feeling disconsolate after his substitution. He’d let the game pass him by, didn’t get on the ball enough, didn’t score. 

Then suddenly he’s given a second chance. He comes in a rejuvenated player, hungry for possession now, chasing down everything. There’s probably a twinge of anger in his attitude too so this time he lets rip.

Soon he has two points posted and then he races into position to take that fateful pass from Joe Gallagher – the rest is history. 

I don’t know if it was Brian Lawlor, or Sean Treacy or some other selector who made the suggestion but it was a match-winning call. 

The speed of Barry Hogan’s puckout has drawn comment, with some Loughmore sources a bit peeved. A number of times during the game the referee had pulled back quick puckouts but this one was allowed. 

It’s an issue that needs tightening with referees. I remember a few years ago being involved with Boherlahan and this was a constant annoyance. Some referees would allow quick ones, others wouldn’t and there was often inconsistency within a game. Some days we ended up asking the referee in advance what was his policy. 

Above: Kiladangan’s Alan Flynn holds onto the ball despite the challenge of Loughmore’s Joseph Nyland during the FBD Insurance county senior hurling championship final

My understanding here, always open to correction of course, is that players must be outside the twenty-metre line and the whistle blown in order for play to resume. It’s not discretionary on the part of the official. 

At face value then Loughmore appear to have a point, though I think the whistle here was blown as Barry Hogan was taking the puckout so we’re into tight margins. Either way there was no excuse for Loughmore not being ready. They had plenty time to re-set, as John McGrath rightly took extra care on the 65.

All of which shouldn’t detract from either Kiladangan’s win or the overall performance of the referee Michael Kennedy, from Newcastle. He’s the most promising newcomer on the scene for many years.

There were times in the first half when I felt this was going to be the same old story for Kiladangan. I’m sure their management during the week would have stressed to them that this was just another game, another in a sequence of matches and to banish from their minds any ideas about making history. 

But history has a way of weighing heavily on players. You can tell yourself that it’s just another game but somewhere in the recesses of the mind you can’t quite shake that voice telling you that it’s much more important than that. And that knowledge can tighten nerves a little and players struggle to get into normal fluency.

The evidence for this in the first half was ten Kiladangan wides. They were rushing things, forcing the shots and missing what would normally be bread and butter scores.

Besides, their defence was all in a tangle for the three first half goals. Typical Loughmore economy took maximum advantage and when the north side went five down, one feared the worst for them.

In hindsight Loughmore will rue not pushing on from there. If five-up becomes seven-up or nine-up then you have a substantial lead and the opposition is really under the cosh.

However, it was Kiladangan’s reaction to their early difficulties that ultimately set them up for victory. And here it was probably the experience of last year and 2016 that stood to them. They stayed on task and didn’t panic.

Their defence steadied, wing backs Decky McGrath and Alan Flynn particularly outstanding. Up front Sean Hayes hit some sweet points and Paul Flynn was already emerging as the game’s main man.

A goal would have been useful but in its absence they chipped away at points and were within two at the interval. They had more of the play but the goals were big items.

The second half was really a point-for-point affair, with the teams level on several occasions. In injury time Paul Flynn seemed to have won it but then Noel McGrath stepped up with an unbelievable point from under the Old Stand. Extra time beckoned.

With bodies tiring the quota of errors increased in the additional time. Even the McGraths were guilty of some uncharacteristic misses. Still Loughmore took a marginal edge to the turnover and seemed to be maintaining it until the late, late dramatics and Bryan McLoughney’s ascent to the realm of immortality.

For a neutral it was a priceless spectacle, with everything the old game has to offer on display. I felt in advance that Kiladangan’s time had come but how they wobbled before eventually crossing the line so spectacularly will be the stuff of fireside debate around Puckane for generations to come.

Their story epitomises the very heartbeat of the GAA. A rural club overshadowed by neighbours like Toomevara and Nenagh for so long before eventually finding their place in the sun. It’s a story of hard work, of dedicated volunteers fostering the youth.

It’s also a tale of patience, of setbacks and hard knocks. It’s a narrative of incremental progress from the intermediate breakthrough of 2005 to a first north title in 2008 and a first county final appearance in 2016. 

In summary it’s a story that others should draw inspiration from. 

Above: Kiladangan’s Dan O’Meara comes under pressure from Noel McGrath during Sunday’s county senior hurling championship final

For Loughmore it’s a really hard one to take. They’ve had an extraordinary run in both codes and this was the cruellest way of all to lose. It will be little consolation that they embellished the occasion with some extraordinary hurling.

Some of the McGrath scores were off the scale and John Meagher was a candidate for man of the match after another stellar performance. For a veteran like David Kennedy it would have been a fitting conclusion to an amazing career; he certainly can’t be faulted for this failure.

Perhaps it’s best that they have no time to dwell on the trauma now but instead must pick themselves up for the football final this Sunday against Clonmel Commercials. There’s a precedent here that I was reminded of during the weekend. Back in 1987 they suffered a last- gasp defeat to Cappawhite in the hurling final and then dusted themselves off to top Commercials in the football equivalent. It will be an extraordinary outcome if they can manage a reprise this time.

Elsewhere at the weekend Mullinahone regained their place in the top flight with a rousing win over Lorrha in the Seamus O’Riain Cup final. They were underdogs but with the likes of Eoin Kelly and Paul Curran pulling the strings the north side found them too hot to handle.

It was another cracking game in a weekend that produced a feast of hurling. The outcome was signalled in the first half, at the end of which Mullinahone took a five-point lead.

Bonner Maher initiated a move that led to a Cian Hogan goal early on but within minutes Michael Dunne scorched his way down the left flank before dispatching a Mullinahone retort; it was a finish to match any we saw at the weekend.

The highlight story, though, in the second half was that of Eoin Kelly, with two of their three-goal blast that ultimately decided this contest.

And let’s give credit here to Mikey O’Shea, who orchestrated two of the majors, first setting up Kelly for that emphatic finish and then supplying Michael Dunne for his second. Within a minute Kelly had the third after a great fetch from an Eoin Fennelly delivery.

That was it, there really was no way back for Lorrha. They pushed Brian Hogan into attack and he did manage a goal but they needed a few more and Paul Curran and company held firm to ensure a really fine win.

The leadership Kelly and Curran provide for younger players is invaluable. Sean Curran’s six points was a highlight contribution also. Jack Shelly’s industry all day was well commented upon as well. Daire O’Brien at corner back grabbed notice also. 

These were some of the individual highlights in a feisty team display that had too much for Bonner Maher and company.

It’s good to have a southern presence back in the Dan Breen, even if it’s going to be especially challenging for Mullinahone in that hot company.

For more Tipperary sport listen to The Nationalist sports editor Eamonn Wynne's preview of the county senior football championship final between Loughmore/Castleiney and Clonmel Commercials