Westside Column 11 September 2020

WESTSIDE

 

A novel county final beckons after dismal semis. Margins of ten and fifteen points drained the weekend’s semi-finals of any worthwhile tension. There was none of the previous week’s dramatics as Loughmore and Kiladangan skated home unruffled.

A stirring final is promised – and badly needed now to redeem our championship series after these mis-matches.

‘O what can ail the, knight at arms/Alone and palely loitering’. The lines from the famous John Keats ballad will have echoes for many a Leaving Certificate student and might be a fit anthem for Nenagh Eire Og after another major let down performance. The image of Jake Morris loitering all alone on the side line after his red card midway through the second half summed up another dark and dreary experience for the hurlers from Ormond.

Morris’s offence, like that of Ronan Maher the previous week, had frustration written all over it. He’d been shadowed and shackled by Lorcan Egan all evening and the irritation finally saw him snap.

O what can ail thee Nenagh? Indeed. So often they flash bright promise across our vision but as often it vanishes like a puff of smoke. How can you reconcile the display of the previous week beside this tame surrender? You can’t.

The absence of Hugh Moloney through injury might be cited as an extenuating factor. His experience was undoubtedly missed. Then further injuries to Conor McCarthy and Barry Heffernan during the game robbed the defence of more quality players. However, the game’s pattern was well established before the latter two were forced out, so I wouldn’t over play the hard luck card. Aren’t Loughmore without Liam Treacy.

An instant Paddy Murphy point at the start of the action sparked immediate promise. More smoke, I’m afraid. Soon John McGrath was swinging over points from play and frees and by water break the board read eight-one.

There was a mini recovery, of sorts, from Nenagh in the second quarter, led by a pair of well-struck Mikey Heffernan points. Now at least they were matching Loughmore if not exactly reeling in the lead. Then on the cusp of half time a Noel McGrath line ball floats into the goalmouth where Tomas McGrath pokes home a goal.

The margin was eleven at the break and that was pretty much the match decided. Loughmore methodically chipped away at the points in the second half and Nenagh could never make an indent on the advantage. A late Tommy Heffernan goal was poor consolation for the badly beaten Northerners.

For Loughmore you sense this was just another job of work completed. There’s an unfussy busyness about them where day by day they simply do the basics in an unspectacular but effective way. You always feel they’re greater than the sum of their parts, which makes them especially tricky opponents.

One down without much cheer for neutrals we hoped for better fare on Sunday evening as Drom sought to follow-up on their big deed of the previous week. O vain hope! Another one-sider, another pasting for the vanquished, another underwhelming experience for the viewers – unless you reside around Puckane of course.

Kiladagan were hotly fancied here and they duly delivered another major statement of intent. Doling out a fifteen-point lesson to Seamie Callanan and colleagues was eye-catching. From a slow start in their opening bout against Bracken’s this Kiladangan side has really built a head of steam, playing some of the best hurling of the championship thus far. They’re now one bout away from immortality.

The scales swung steady enough to either side in the opening quarter, Kiladangan taking a 7-4 advantage to the water break. Already Alan Flynn had executed a great block on Callanan. Billy Seymour was looking dangerous for Kiladangan.

A major moment came 22 minutes into the action when Brian McLoughney wove his way past several defenders before finish with emphasis under Eoin Collins. The game’s only goal endorsed Kildangan’s growing advantage; they were seven-up at the break.

It got progressively worse for Drom in the second half. Perhaps the exertions of the previous week now took their toll. For whatever reason Kiladangan just drove ahead, point by point. Billy Seymour was textbook on free-taking duties while at the other end Seamie Callanan floundered badly on the ‘dead’ balls. I couldn’t even fathom what Seame was trying on some of those frees. They hit ten second half wides and failed to score from play in that period. It was awful stuff from the team that ousted the champions just a week earlier.

By the end the Mid side faced the humiliation of their opponents emptying the bench, taking off some of their best, giving players a run-out, safe in the knowledge that they were heading for another county final appearance in a fortnight’s time.

It was a miserable ending to the campaign for Drom and Inch. You wonder if a one-point eclipse to Borris-Ileigh the previous week would have been preferable, leaving the scene with a highly respectable showing instead of this humiliation. Such are the vagaries of sport.

I was watching Kiladangan coming off the pitch at the end and for a team that had just qualified for the county final there was a very calm, almost subdued atmosphere among them. There was little whooping or high-fiving. Instead there was just deep satisfaction with the display, no doubt, but you sensed too that this is a group that has the experience of being here before and knows that their biggest test is yet to come.

A bit like the senior games there was no late tension in the minor final at Holycross where Thurles Sarsfields duly justified their favouritism with a strong win over Cashel King Cormac’s. It was the club’s first win in a decade and offers some consolation in a year of senior disappointment.

Sars’ were touted all year as an exceptional bunch and they’ve delivered on that promise though I wouldn’t rate this as an outstanding final. It was keenly contested, for sure, but the touch and striking could be better. A notable feature was the number of block-downs which is a great skill in itself but when it’s a remarkable aspect of a game you begin to realise that lads are a bit slow and static in their striking. Always strike on the move, is a golden rule from the coach’s manual.

Anyway, a strong opening quarter from Sarsfields saw them in command at the water break, leading 9-3. At that stage I thought Cashel were doing well to stay in the contest but they rallied strongly in the second quarter and trailed by just four at the interval. Cathal Quinn hit some great points from midfield.

For neutrals the game probably needed a Cashel goal but unfortunately it came at the other end, finished by Darragh Minogue early in the second half. And that pretty well finished the contest too. With Darragh Stakelum striking some great frees for Sarsfields they were well in control and ran out comfortable winners.

In fairness to Cashel they stayed game all through but they were simply against a better side. I thought full back, Callum Lawrence did a commendable job on dangerman Paddy Creedon. Conor O’Dwyer was a real stand-out player at number six and Cathal Quinn hit five from play – quite a display on a well beaten side. Having to position Daniel Moloney back in defence left the Cashel attack struggling. It’s the old scenario whereby when the quilt is too short either head or feet gets exposed.

From one to fifteen Sarsfields were simply stronger, using the ball better and having key men in central positions. Their defence was really sturdy rebuffing everything Cashel could throw at them in the second half. The forwards then had a spread of score-getters, especially the likes of Liam McCormack, Tommy Maher and Darragh Stakelum.

The Sarsfields’ supply lines are functioning once again.

Next weekend the stand-out hurling fixtures are at intermediate level with clashing semi-finals on Sunday afternoon at Littleton and Holycross. Why the 3.30 clash of fixtures? Maybe with no spectators allowed it’s deemed irrelevant but some of us on duty would like to see both for comparative purposes – not to mention local associations.

This intermediate grade has been remarkably even in standard with no strong favourites emerging and everything resting on the form of the day. Like last year it’s down to whichever side gathers that bit of momentum for the final rounds, as Sean Treacys did twelve months ago.

Kickhams, the only non-Mid side in the final four, face Gortnahoe in Holycross while Boherlahan come up against Moyne over in Littleton. With apologies to Gortnahoe and Moyne my personal wish is for a Kickhams/Boherlahan final with all the fun and games that derby fixture would bring. What’s the betting then that it will be a Gortnahoe/Moyne affair?

And here’s hoping too that we have some easing of spectator restrictions in the coming weeks, especially for major county finals. Maintaining the present rules for a venue like Semple Stadium, for example, seems utterly bereft of logic.

 

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