An historic year for Thurles Sarsfields looks set for even more glory as their U21s topple Loughmore in a high-quality Mid decider last Sunday. From eight-down at one stage in the second half the ‘Blues’ staged a remarkable comeback to reverse the minor outcome of three years ago.  Sars’, it seems, are unstoppable in their present mood and the victory of Kilcormac in the Leinster senior final will have enhanced their prospects even further.

This U21 grade may be the curse of all fixtures committees but it certainly throws up some vintage hurling. Conditions were grey and a little misty at times at Templemore but nobody in the attendance was too bothered. The hurling brightened the day: two smashing teams going at it full throttle in a dinger of a contest that featured an incredible fight back and a one-point verdict.

This will be a painful one for Loughmore to recall because they’ll know in their hearts that they squandered a great opportunity. They led by four at the break thanks to a bullet of a twenty metre free from John McGrath. His cousin Liam kicked a goal chance wide early on and full forward John Ryan had another wasted opportunity. Add in a liberal flow of wides and you’ll see that they should have been comfortably in charge at half time against a Sars’ formation that relied heavily on Aidan McCormack frees at that stage.

Still the horizon brightened significantly for Loughmore on resuming when Eamonn Connolly whipped in a goal and his team eventually went eight-up. It was a formidable lead one felt in winter conditions but there’s quality in this Sarsfields’ side and it was inevitable that some ‘kick’ would come. Yet the extent of that revival must have stung Loughmore because Sars’ did it the hard way, point by point, in the absence of a goal.

The turn-around was gradual but steady. Sarsfields’ defence got on top; Loughmore’s attack faltered badly, failing to score a single point from play in the second half. At midfield Stephen Cahill stepped up considerably for the ‘Blues’ and piecemeal they chipped away at the lead. Aidan McCormack was sound on the frees and they had a decent spread of point-scorers, Tommy Doyle’s two a significant contribution.

A goal from Sarsfields would really have ignited the push and they came closest when Aidan McCormack brought a great reflex save from Craig Cleary. Loughmore were still two-up at that stage but McCormack pointed the resultant ‘65’ to cut the margin to the minimum. With still about six minutes plus injury time to play the game was well poised for a rousing finish.

Eventually there were just two minutes remaining when Michael O’Brien danced away in joy after hitting the leveller. An Aidan McCormack free had Sars’ in the lead with time running out but John McGrath cancelled at the other end.

Into injury time then and Sars’ went two-up with points from Cian Treacy and Denis Maher. A Willie Eviston point for Loughmore halved the margin and the game was over four minutes into additional time when John McGrath missed a very scoreable chance to send the match to extra time.

It was a frustrating loss for Loughmore who hit seventeen wides over the hour. John Meagher, one of Eamon O’Shea’s newest recruits, certainly stood out at full back though at the other end Liam McGrath had a disappointing day, failing to score from play.

It’s amazing how success breeds success and in the case of Sarsfields I’ve no doubt their senior profile at the moment gave them the impetus to get over the line here. They’ve five of the senior fifteen available, including half of the forward division in Denis Maher, Michael O’Brien and Aidan McCormack. Add in the two Mahers in defence as well as players such as Ronan Maher and Stephen Cahill who came on in the Munster final and you can guess at their overall strength in depth. They’ll be well fancied to win this one out now.

The North and South divisions are still lagging behind in this grade with finals presumably being played this coming weekend. Down South there were three red cards as Killenaule edged out Mullinahone. They’ll face Ballybacon in the final. Up North it rests between Toomevara and Kilruane.

Mention of John Meagher a moment ago leads on nicely to the Tipperary panel which is due to start winter training this Saturday following a get-together last week. Meagher and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer have been included in a twenty-six man panel which will prepare for the Waterford Crystal and National League in the New Year. David Young and Shane Maher have departed voluntarily but interestingly Brendan Cummins has re-committed for another season.

Apart from the twenty-six there’s a group of nine which will make up an extended panel. This includes five from last year’s panel who I suppose are being put on notice that they have to earn a recall. Included are the three Clonoulty players as well as Adrian Ryan and Sean Curran. Completing this group of nine are Seamus Hennessy, Jason Forde, Tom Hamill and Nenagh’s Michael Heffernan.

Of course at this stage it’s all very fluid but clearly the new management has laid down a marker with regard to some of the behaviour last year and it will be interesting to see how this follows through. If Sarsfields progress in the All Ireland club series it will deprive Eamon O’Shea of four panellists for most of the league, though on the reverse side of that coin it presents opportunities for others to impress. It’s going to be a busy New Year for the panel with a game already pencilled in for January 6 when they play UCC at Emly as part of a fund-raiser for the local school’s building programme. That’s likely to be the first competitive outing for Eamon O’Shea and his new cabinet.

Meanwhile behind the scenes these new proposals for reforming our club championship are stirring debate. I detect a general acceptance that some realignment is needed but how to accomplish it is the difficulty. We may have too many sub-standard senior sides but how do you bring about the necessary readjustment without inflicting serious collateral damage on clubs.

Statistics can be used in curious ways and I note some interesting figures being employed at a recent board meeting where these plans were put forward. It was cited, for instance, that thirteen of our thirty-two senior sides haven’t won a divisional title in over twenty years. So what? Annacarty haven’t won the West for twenty-six years and yet they got to the last four in this year’s championship. Kilsheelan Kilcash didn’t win a county junior hurling title since time began, yet they kept going and had their moment this year.

The suggestion appears to be that if you haven’t a realistic chance of winning a championship then you shouldn’t be in it. I disagree. Examine all championships in any sport and I’d suggest that most teams taking part haven’t the proverbial snowball’s chance of winning out. How many teams can win next year’s Liam McCarthy? Three? Four? So the remainder shouldn’t be taking part? How many can win Sam Maguire? A handful, so the rest, including Tipperary, should play intermediate?

And there’s another fallacy surfacing in this argument too where having the aim of avoiding relegation is seen as somehow damning. It’s not. Having a target of avoiding relegation is a legitimate ambition in all sports. When twenty premiership clubs set out at the start of their season several of them had as their target the avoidance of relegation. And only a few were realistic contenders in a title chase which many would already see as a two-horse race.

I suspect by the time we come to voting on this in January the initial proposals will have been altered very significantly. We need realignment for sure, but not a slash-and-burn policy which will cripple clubs. Inevitably it’s a topic we will be returning to.

A topic that’s not going away either is that Galway county final and the YouTube comedy feed that is has spawned. From Hitler to Effin Eddie there’s no shortage of send-ups and while you can make a skit out of it all I suspect Croke Park and the Galway hurling board see the more damaging side. Galway is rightly regarded as having one of the most competitive hurling championships around but they won’t be thanking TG4 for showing the world the more unpleasant side of local rivalry.

Now comes the announcement that the offending player has been banned for eight weeks following an investigation of the game.  Here once again the entire system comes into disrepute because an eight-week ban in December and January is no penalty whatsoever. It’s all an embarrassing episode for the association and for Galway at the end of a year when their hurling stock rose significantly. How about suspending the match officials?

Dear O Duibhir! It’s the season for books and a modest, though worthy addition to the collection is the memoir of Cashel’s Sean O’Duibhir, launched recently in the town. Sean wears many hats – pharmacist, gaelgeoir, general wag and mischief-maker as well as close friend of the famous ‘Merryman’, Johnny Murphy – and in cahoots with the latter comes this book of memories and moments from a life well spent.

It’s not a book that will overly tax the reader but makes for relaxed reading as Sean recalls his life and his many escapades over the years. Inevitably the GAA features prominently including Sean’s Cashel K.C. fifteen, which I’m sure will stir a debate here and there. Being a character himself Sean readily recognises one and this book is laced with humorous anecdotes. Like the one about the discussion in a local hostelry one night on the merits of lap dancing where one wag remarked that he’d love to be the pole! I like the one about Timmy ‘The Coalman’ too, a character from the past who was invariably covered in coal dust with only the whites of his eyes visible. ‘One day he spotted a coloured gentleman on the street in Cashel (a rare sight at the time) and Timmy approached him with the greeting, “Lave it there auld hand you must be in the same line of business as myself”.

There’s many more where that came from. In times of austerity we need a laugh and you’ll certainly enjoy a few with this memoir. It’s well worth the ten euro with the added bonus that all profits go to charity. Watch out for ‘My Life and Times in Cashel’ by Sean O Duibhir.

P.S. Lar Corbett is about to take a wife and we wish them both well. At his stag in Limerick the  stand-up moment of the night came when ‘Redser’ called for a minute’s silence for Toomevara. I can imagine that one being replayed if they meet in the future.

P.P.S. Another ‘Yearbook’ hits the shelves, another massive production stretching to over two hundred and seventy pages recording all GAA related events over the past year in the county. The cover features four captains fantastic – Bill Maher, Paul Curran, Dylan Fitzell and Eddie Connolly – and their haul of trophies in front of the Rock. (Actually it was quite a productive year for Tipperary, though everything was overshadowed by that Kilkenny disaster).

As usual the book has its typical mix of material from local battles lost and won to the inter-county stuff of legends. It’s all delivered in vivid colour for a ten euro cost which hasn’t changed for many years. Essential Christmas reading.

Comments are closed.