Westside Column 12 April 2019

WESTSIDE

 

There’s no doubt Eire Og Annacarty’s nine-point win over Thurles Sarsfields was the most eye-catching result from last weekend’s opening bouts in the county senior hurling championship.

Sarsfields have won seven of the last ten county titles. They exited at semi-final stage last year and we wondered was 2018 just a temporary blip in their latter day dominance – or evidence of a deeper decline.

They’re still listed as championship favourites this week but after attending Dundrum on Saturday evening last those 5/4 odds now look decidedly unattractive.

This day belonged to Annacarty and Donohill.  It was a confident display by Eire Og where they took the game to the favourites, out-played them and sustained the effort right to the end. Strangers to the venue would be excused for thinking that Eire Og must be the multi-titled favourites and Sarsfields the 7/1 no-hopers.

This was classic Annacarty. They set their team up well, brought a dead-eyed focus to the job on hand and made it a blue day indeed for the Sarsfields. Ironically the Mid side wore white on this occasion in a jersey change, which turned out to be something of a white flag of surrender to their Western conquerors.

From the off it was clear that Eire Og was in the mood to do business. They were sharp and snappy in everything they did and pretty soon the points were clocking up at the railway end of the pitch. By half time everyone from 9 to 15 was on the score sheet, Brian Fox was leading a dominant defence, Conor O’Brien was the key personality at midfield and Tom Fox was notable at half forward.

By contrast Sarsfields were on the back foot, struggling all over trying to gain some traction in the contest. Aidan McCormack was faultless on the frees and also hit two from play. Denis Maher won a deal of possession too but other than that you’d be searching for highlight names in those unfamiliar jerseys.

The margin was six at the break and it didn’t get any better for Sarsfields after the interval. Any notion that Eire Og’s first half energy would dissipate on resuming was pretty soon dismissed. The game’s trajectory remained the same throughout. Aidan Griffin was outstanding on the frees, Dinny Crosse came on and hit a pair of points and all the time we waited, and waited for a Sarsfields’ response.

Briefly, very briefly and fleetingly the Thurles lads did up the tempo. Lar Corbett was in, looking dandy in his black leggings. Paudie Maher, hitherto very subdued, now put on a bit of a spurt carrying possession into attack in a bid to rescue the game. They needed goals and came closest when Mossy McCormack brought an excellent save from Darragh Mooney. Later Ronan Maher sent a close-in free whizzing outside the left post. That was the extent of Sarsfields’ response to a thoroughly commanding display by the West side.

A few bookies, I’m told, got burned on the back of this outcome. In truth the odds were outlandish. With Sarsfields down a few players and playing away from the Stadium in their first championship game it was always likely that Eire Og would make things hot for them. Perhaps the margin of victory was the only real surprise on the day.

Individually Eire Og had the best on show. Brian Fox was superb at centre back. This guy is a joy to watch every day regardless of the code. He led a defence that was unperturbed by anything Sarsfields could throw at them with Eoin Kennedy strong at full and young Paul Devlin slotting in seamlessly at corner back. Behind them they had the reassurance of Darragh Mooney, the forgotten goalie of Tipp hurling.

Conor O’Brien brought all his experience to bear at midfield beside Paidi O’Dwyer and Tom Fox was a key ball winner in attack where Donal O’Dwyer and the rest were always industrious. Aidan Griffin’s free taking was immense. Eight scores from eight attempts was quality of the highest order.

Against all of that Sarsfields looked but a shadow of the side that last season was chasing a five-in-a-row. Denis Maher was their individual best; otherwise it was a game for them to quickly forget. They remain favourites, as mentioned, but on this evidence I certainly wouldn’t be backing them.

Elsewhere it was a mixed weekend for the West division with Clonoulty’s bid to defend their title hitting an instant bump. Borrisoleigh began and finished strongly to claim valuable points that sets them up nicely in that Group 2 of the Dan Breen series.

It was historic too with TG4 for the first time bringing their cameras to far-flung places to cover opening rounds of championships. The station deserves huge commendation for its service to the games.

Borrisoleigh began in a hurry, 1-5 to nil up after eight minutes following Niall Kenny’s batted goal. Clonoulty were in disarray. Eventually Timmy Hammersley pointed a free to steady nerves and they got the bonus of a soft goal before the interval when Cathal Bourke’s free somehow eluded the defensive wall. Still the gap was seven at the break.

Credit goes to the reigning champions for a spirited response in the second half. Within ten minutes of resuming they’d reeled off seven unanswered points to tie up the game on a Dillon Quirke score.

However, in a game of swings and roundabouts, the Clonoulty resurgence wasn’t sustained. They got ahead alright – twice – but the decisive drive came from the North side. Brendan Maher and Dan McCormack were the twin-engines behind Borrisoleigh’s late push at a time when they were down to fourteen following Paddy Stapleton’s red card. A few missed frees might have been costly but they did enough to claim the spoils in a game that was always entertaining.

In other action I saw the Nenagh/Upperchurch game at Dolla on Saturday. It went according to expectation with Eire Og streaking ahead on the home straight for a nine-point verdict.

I thought it was a disappointing contest because the ‘Church never looked like pulling off an upset despite the closeness of the scoring for much of the game.

The Mid side made the brighter start with the first four flags and then a Loughlin Ryan goal setting them up nicely. Jake Morris was threatening at the other end and eventually he delivered a goal, which undid much of the Mid side’s best efforts at that juncture.

Nenagh led by one at the break and eventually strode well clear on resuming. A succession of points carried them on their way and a Tommy Heffernan goal near the end rounded it all off. They might have won by more, Jake Morris wayward on some frees and another goal chance or two also being denied.

Add in a stack of second half wides from Nenagh and you get the sense of a contest that eventually became a stroll for the North men. I was disappointed with the Upperchurch effort; a single point from play in the second half sums up their attacking poverty.

There were plenty of other games too at the weekend with some significant outcomes. Kiladangan’s win over Drom/Inch was notable – a blow for the Mid side and an early-season statement from the Puckane club. Loughmore’s draw with Burgess caught the eye too – not what the Mid team would have expected.

Killenaule’s narrow defeat to Kilruane MacDonaghs was noteworthy too in a very tough Group. The South side needs something now from their games with Sarsfields and Annacarty if they’re to avoid a relegation dog fight. It’s quite a daunting prospect. Word that they hadn’t access to their county players the week ahead of this fixture is disturbing.

A final result that set tongues wagging at the weekend was in the intermediate grade where Boherlahan came from behind to beat a fancied Gortnahoe team. How far they came from behind was the point of amazement. Down a dozen at half time they eventually went thirteen adrift before rallying to go five-up and eventually win by two. It ranks as one of the great comebacks in a game of two very different halves. Explaining such twists and roundabouts isn’t simple – so I won’t even try.

Anyway it’s goodbye now to club hurling, which goes into lockdown for around five months. Spare a thought for club managements.

 

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