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27 Nov 2021

Sarsfields and Loughmore must meet again after Tipperary's feast of hurling

County senior hurling final replay will be played on Sunday November 28

County hurling final

Loughmore’s Evan Sweeney tries to evade Thurles Sarsfields' Seosamh Ryan during the county senior hurling championship final. Picture: Eamonn McGee

A feast of hurling and more to come – such was the conclusion after a weekend of blissful entertainment in balmy weather conditions.
The top prize remains uncollected, after Sarsfields and Loughmore played out a thrilling stalemate. Elsewhere Templederry are celebrating after a rousing second half demolition of Killenaule and Moyne Templetuohy finally take intermediate honours against the bravehearts of Kilsheelan Kilcash. A devastating late surge from Skeheenarinky stuns Holycross in the junior decider.
Wow! What a hurling banquet we had at the weekend. The gods conspired with unseasonably pleasant weather – or was it climate change? – on a weekend when the old game showcased its very best. On this evidence the club scene hereabouts is in robust health.
The senior business goes back to another day, after Liam McGrath’s late leveller sends the final to a replay for the first time since Mullinahone downed Sarsfields back in 2002. Sarsfields were also replay losers to Toomevara in 1992. These are games they won’t need reminding of as they prepare for the re-set on Sunday week.
For the moment, one suspects, Sars are just happy to have escaped the Loughmore onslaught and live to fight another day. If you broke down the game into its four quarters then the favourites won the first handsomely but lost the other three.
Denis Maher’s two-goal blast in the opening phase set an ominous trend. His overhead flick beat the grasping fingers of Aidan McGrath for the first and the other came at the second attempt, following the goalie’s initial save. A slip by Joey Hennessy in the lead-up was unfortunate for the full back.
At eight-up on the first water break, Sarsfields were in control. An eerie quietness descended on the Stadium, as this game seemed to be careering towards an inevitable outcome. But Loughmore never go quietly into the night and we should have suspected that this would be no exception.
Slowly, piecemeal, Loughmore worked themselves back into the contest. There was no sudden gush but instead the drip-drip effect of point by point. In the second quarter they outscored Sarsfields seven-three to halve the deficit. But for some wastefulness it would have been more substantial, both John and Brian McGrath in turn culpable.
No matter. The narrative was changing, the balance of power shifting. The goal haemorrhage at the back had been staunched, the goal threat at Killinan increased. A great block by Paudie Maher on Liam McGrath denied Loughmore the best chance of a major. Still, after the early signs of one-sidedness, this was now very much game on.
The third quarter brought another halving of the lead, back now to two points, John McGrath the main score source off frees. Denis Maher might have bucked the trend with a third major following a short puckout that went astray. Paddy Creedon set him up but the shot was deflected away, the video replay showing that it was full back, Joey Hennessy, who got his hurley in to deny the full forward.
It all set up the final quarter for a pulsating finish. The Stadium was heaving now as Loughmore’s inexorable push continued. Points by John McGrath and then Noel tied up the game for the first time with ten minutes to play. What a comeback from eight down in the first quarter.
It got better for Loughmore. Substitute Ciaran McGrath hit the lead point before a John McGrath free made it two-up. This was asking questions of Sarsfields that had not been posed thus far in this campaign, and to their credit they responded.
Pa Bourke, their best forward, halved the deficit and then Conor Stakelum hit the leveller. The tension now hit high doh as we approached end game. A free to Sarsfields from deep inside their own half saw Ronan Maher nonchalantly land a monster point for the lead once more, as the match drifted into additional time.
There would be one final twist. On their own forty Sarsfields lost possession and Liam Treacy set up Liam McGrath to coolly slot the leveller. A touch of controversy bubbled at the very end, as Loughmore got a sideline, but the final whistle prevented it being taken. Loughmore players protested but others noted that Paddy Creedon was surely deserving of a free in the lead-up. In any case the referee would have been wiser to blow time on the puckout following Liam McGrath’s leveller, rather that dicing with controversy. It’s a cliched response but a draw really was the fairest outcome here.
For Sarsfields it will have been a worrying experience overall. Under relentless pressure their normally slick game was badly ruffled. The TG4 commentary used the word botún more that once, mostly relating to another fumble, dropped pass or miscue and mostly referencing Sarsfields, though Loughmore had their errors too.
The Mahers, Paudie and Ronan, were less influential than usual and their flankers were often under the cosh. Michael Cahill struggled to contain John McGrath and it was left to Pa Bourke to be their most effective forward. Denis Maher had the distinction of getting the game’s only goals and Conor Stakelum worked slavishly, but overall this was a faltering Sarsfields effort.
For Loughmore it was another trademark display of resilience. The half back line was outstanding, especially Brian McGrath and John Meagher. Ciaran Connolly was the best midfielder on view and man-of-the-match, John McGrath, took the attacking honours, something that has become habitual in recent games.
Overall Loughmore will have been happier for the experience. They managed to get into Sarsfields’ faces and reduced the game to an arm-wrestle, which was just what the doctor ordered. It was a great contest more than a great hurling match, if you get my meaning. I can’t wait for the replay.
There was no such tension or late dramatics in the O’Riain Cup final. A very tentative, uninspiring first half ended all square. Thereafter Templederry got on top and with growing emphasis drove on to an emphatic victory.
Top scorer, Sean Ryan, had a very muted opening half but now he produced the standout moment of the game with a cracking goal. Brian Stapleton was on since half-time and his influence became very pronounced, as the north side found their rhythm. Gearoid Ryan and Adrian Ryan were key players too, as was Eanna Murray and midfielder, Odhrán Murphy, the man of the match.
It was a second half tour de force from the Kenyons. Their defence took a stranglehold on the Killenaule attack and at the other end the scores began to roll off with growing regularity.
Joe O’Dwyer, Killenaule’s standout player, stood bravely in the breach but so many of his colleagues were second best. In the end it was another chastening experience for the Robins. Substitute Eoin Barry fired in a fine goal near the end but it was scant consolation for a team that will be playing premier intermediate next year.
The intermediate final for me was the highlight of the weekend. A near full house at Littleton’s fine venue on Saturday witnessed a cracking encounter between Moyne Templetuohy and Kilsheelan Kilcash. Everything from the sportsmanship to the intensity and hurling standard was a joy to behold. Moyne, after near misses in recent years, were fancied and just about got there after a thorough examination from a very game Kilsheelan outfit.
It was a quality game between two very even sides. Jamie Roche had an early goal for the south side and might easily have had a second later in the half. Jason Bergin hit back with a major for the mid men and the teams retired all square at the interval.
The key moment came seconds after the restart. Conor Bowe broke from midfield, his penetrating run prising open the defence before he offloaded to Gearoid O’Connor, who delivered an emphatic finish to the net. Tom Meade, one of the best for the winners, followed with a point and suddenly Kilsheelan were chasing the game.
They were still four-down going into the last quarter but outscored Moyne six-three in that final spell to set up a tense finish. A few wides at a crucial juncture didn’t help their cause, though overall Moyne were just that bit slicker and deserving of the honours. Nonetheless it was a commendable effort by Kilsheelan, for whom Martin Gibbs was outstanding on the frees. If they build on this, they’re well capable of going further in future years.
Finally, some big decisions at last week’s board meeting will take a lot of digesting by clubs before next year’s activity commences. The headline item was the rebranding of the Seamus O’Riain as premier intermediate. In one stroke sixteen teams were effectively regraded to intermediate with the full impact, I suspect, only gradually sinking in.
The move had its origin in last year’s Congress decision to have a maximum of sixteen teams in a championship. However, there has long been the perception that Tipperary has too many senior sides in name only and some realignment was long overdue. In normal circumstances such a seemingly drastic decision would be unpalatable but the Congress vote gave it national impetus.
The fallout will be interesting. For example, the south division now has only one senior side, Mullinahone. The west has just two, Clonoulty and Annacarty. For the mid and north the consequences are less impactful.
Another major decision taken last week was to have an U19 grade next year instead of an U20 or U21. It’s a crazy move in my much-ignored view. It means if you don’t make your club’s main team you have no competition to look forward to at a time of life when lads can easily drift from the games. It makes no sense but the clubs voted for it.

Tipperary SHC final analysis: Loughmore didn't let Sarsfields play, but have they missed the boat?

Having this game televised proved a good advertisment for Tipperary fare

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