WESTSIDE COLUMN 12 OCTOBER 2012

 

 

So, as expected, it will be an all-Mid Sars/Drom county decider on Sunday next following a semi-final programme of mixed texture. Sarsfields accelerated away from Eire Og in a disappointing second half while Drom needed extra time to shake off fourteen-man Loughmore. The ‘Blues’ carry heavy favouritism to the final but Drom look attractive at the odds on offer.

From landslide to cliff-hanger, once more the semi-finals provided very contrasting fare. The entertainment value came with the ebb and flow of the Drom/Loughmore clash because the opener faded out badly as Annacarty wilted following a decent enough opening half.

Taking events chronologically, I suppose it’s fair to say that the warm-up act didn’t really set pulses racing ahead of the main action. Neutral hopes were that Annacarty would stay competitive long enough to ask questions of Sarsfields and in fairness they fit the bill for over thirty minutes. Thereafter, however, it all drifted badly one-sided and the West side was probably fortunate not to leak a few more goals before they got a consolation one themselves at the end.

A major fear for Eire Og ahead of the game was that they’d get hit by early goals and end up punch-drunk for the rest of the action. Thankfully that never happened though the fear was lurking when Denis Maher got through for one as early the sixth minute. Unfortunately the referee missed a dropped hurley in the lead up to that score and that was the type of bad luck that Eire Og needed to avoid given the odds they faced.

Still they didn’t allow that goal to deflate them and stayed very much in touch for the remainder of the half. Quality free taking by Paudie O’Dwyer was a steadying influence; he hit a few from play as well. Donal O’Dwyer landed the best point of the half from the Old Stand sideline and at four adrift by half time Annacarty were still very much in touch, though they had played with the wind.

Sadly it all petered out in the second half. Another Paudie O’Dwyer free cut the lead to just three on resuming but they wouldn’t score again for twenty-five minutes during which time Sarsfields would land 1-10.

I must admit I was a bit disappointed with the extent of Eire Og’s fade out in the second half. They seemed to lose all shape and focus not bothering to even mark Corbett though I suppose when you face such daunting odds the effort is draining and spirits eventually wilt as the deficit mounts.

As a final gambit Eire Og threw Conor O’Brien into attack where, to his credit, he injected some late buzz to the contest hitting a pair of points and driving in to set up Michael McGrath for that late consolation goal. Undoubtedly he was Eire Og’s main man in a variety of roles. I suppose this was bonus territory for Annacarty though I suspect they’ll be disappointed with the way things unravelled in the second half.

For Sarsfields it was another cruise, which still leaves us wondering how they’ll react when they hit choppier waters against sterner opposition. The gulf in class meant they had time and scope to embellish this win.

If the first game was a foregone conclusion there was definitely no such certainty about the second one. The hurling may not have been riveting but it developed into a see-saw contest with the initiative swaying this way and that before finally settling with Drom after Loughmore were reduced to fourteen at the start of extra time.

Loughmore had a nightmare opening quarter with Drom eventually slipping into a seven-one lead. The reigning champions looked crisp and decisive at this stage with scores coming from a variety of sources. Had Joe Lupton not been denied by Damien Young on their best goal chance the lead would surely have gone beyond redemption.

Liam McGrath squandered a few early frees for Loughmore, David Kenned had a howler of a miss on a goal chance and a Noel McGrath free was stopped late in the half. Yet despite all this only three separated them at half time with Drom having played with the wind.

A reinvigorated Loughmore emerged for the second half and within seven minutes they hit the front. The key score was a Noel McGrath penalty after Liam McGrath was taken down en route to goal. But this game would swerve and sway several ways yet.

Into the final ten minutes and Loughmore held the initiative at two-up before a giveaway goal saw Drom back in control. From a routine situation goalie, Scully, gifted Drom a goal when his hand-pass attempt over Callanan’s head was blocked and returned to the net. Re-energised by the gift Drom drove on and went three up into the final five minutes. Game over, you might have thought, but there was yet another ‘kick’ from Loughmore.

Patiently they chipped away at the lead opting for points instead of rushing for goals and the patience paid off when Eddie Connolly landed the leveller five and a half minutes into added time. The time keepers had stipulated five minutes and there was further delay after the PA announcement though five did seem excessive for the stoppages we had.

Anyway Loughmore had rallied to rescue the game and extra time now beckoned for the second time this season between this pair. Sadly for Loughmore the crucial twist to the saga came a mere two minutes into extra time when Callanan lay prone on the pitch and Liam Treacy was shown red after the referee consulted his officials. There was little protest from the player himself and indeed this would prove the breaking point for Loughmore in general. Callanan pointed the resultant free and then came another turning of the screw when David Butler floated a side line ‘cut’ into the goalmouth where Callanan was given the credit for the overhead touch that turned it into the net.

Drom were four-up at the interval and really drove on in the final spell with Callanan leading the charge. The final margin did little justice to Loughmore’s brave effort.

It’s a disappointing way for Loughmore to exit after a topsy-turvy season that had its high in the Mid semi-final and its low in the divisional final. By my reckoning the McGrath name was alongside all bar two points of their total score – Eddie Connolly supplied the two. The McGrath clan is certainly the backbone of a team that has youth on its side and looks set to remain a top contender in future years.

For Drom too it’s been a variable season hitting its lowest point in that Mid semi-final replay but recovering spectacularly when dumping Clonoulty out at quarter-final stage. They’ll have a bold stab at putting titles back to back.

And so to the final on Sunday which allows little recovery time for Drom especially after such a bruising semi-final. By contrast Sarsfields have had a more leisurely passage so in theory they should be fresher. Then again Drom may be more battle-hardened so you never know which way these things work.

According to the bookies this final is a done and dusted certainty. Paddy Power is only offering odds of 2/5 on Sarsfields whereas you’ll get 9/4 for your money on Drom. Factor in the reality that Drom are reigning champions and the odds appear even stranger. It’s surely a much tighter issue than those digits would suggest but perhaps they reflect the perception that Sarsfields are the team with all the talents for whom last year was just a one-day blip against Clonoulty.

Here’s something else that might just challenge the betting odds: Drom have beaten Sarsfields twice already this year. The teams met back in late April in the group stages of the Mid championship where Drom ran out four point winners, 1-12 to 1-8. That game was played at Holycross and the final score probably flattered Sarsfields who were never in the hunt.

In fact there were several low-key displays by Sars’ early in the season and the draw has been very kind to them once the knock-out stages of the championship arrived. They beat Bracken’s in the Mid semi and the divisional final against Loughmore was a freakish event where early goals from Pa Bourke frees distorted the contest. Since then they’ve had Kildangan and Annacarty so the draw has run very favourably for them.

Their most recent meeting with Drom was in August in the final of the county league, premier division, where Sarsfields’ 1-14 was five shy of Drom’s 0-22. However, that contest comes with a health warning: it was played just two days before the All Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny so both sides were without their county personnel, Sarsfields hit heaviest.

There’s no doubt Sarsfields look formidable on paper. I’d rate their half back line of David Kennedy, Padraic Maher and Michael Cahill the strongest on the field. In the autumn of his career Johnny Enright has found a new lease of life as a midfielder beside the smooth hurling Michael Gleeson. Then in attack Corbett and Bourke are the obvious focus though Denis Maher can be very influential too and Michael O’Brien and Aidan McCormack are elusive corner forwards.

While Sarsfields look formidable there’s no doubt Drom have progressed significantly since the clubs’ previous two meetings in county finals. They first clashed in the final of ’05 where Sarsfields, finally released from the shadow of Toomevara, hit the jackpot on a 2-19 to 2-14 score line. Three years later they again clashed in the decider on a day when it all went astray for Drom, losing by nine in a goal-less final, 0-14 to 0-5. Will it be third time lucky for Drom?

I think Drom have looked a more assured team this season than at any time in the past. It’s as if winning the county lifted a burden and there’s now a greater confidence in the side. The loss of David Collins to injury is a heavy blow but they’ve reinforced their attack somewhat by moving Johnny Ryan to centre forward. He’s one of the sweetest strikers in club hurling hitting some massive points from frees the last day (one from within his own ‘45’) as well as a real beauty from play nearing the end of the initial hour.

Otherwise Seamus Callanan and James Woodlock remain pivotal to the side. Callanan monopolised the scoring the last day and Woodlock was probably the busiest player on the pitch. Defensively the Costellos and Michael Butler are strong at the back with Eamon Buckley still doing a useful job on the half line. They’ll need big displays from the Butlers and Luptons up front on Sunday to take some of the attacking spotlight off Callanan.

An interesting aspect of the game will be the individual head-to-heads. One assumes Michael Cahill will latch onto Seamus Callanan for a man-marking job and on the other side it will be interesting to see who follows Lar Corbett or Pa Bourke. How will Drom try to limit the influence of Padraic Maher?

Overall Sars’ are hotly fancied on the basis of reputation rather than displays this year. They haven’t been tested thus far at the business end of the championship so it will be interesting to see how they respond when serious questions are asked. They deserve to be marginal favourites but Drom are anything but the outsiders that the betting suggests. Hopefully it will be a memorable one because the championship thus far has been dull.

 

 

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