Westside Column 15 September 2018

WESTSIDE

 

An inconclusive Mid hurling final adds more woe to the fixtures crisis.

The Mid division is becoming very problematic as the county’s fixtures committee struggles to complete its programme of games. Already Sarsfields, Drom/Inch and Upperchurch are locked in a three-way play-off in Group 3 of the championship and now this drawn Mid final adds yet another complication.

If Sarsfields fail to qualify through the play-off then this Mid final will have to be completed before county fixtures proceed. It’s yet more evidence of how the divisional link to the county championship creates problems. Decoupling the two is long overdue.

Anyway, Templetuohy was the venue for the Mid decider on Sunday. It’s a fine facility though everyone comments on its peripheral location. It’s certainly off the beaten track as you travel those winding roads past the giant wind turbines. I met one hurling man on Sunday who had to use his Sat Nav to locate the pitch.

It’s an appropriate metaphor, perhaps, for this meandering Mid championship which seems reluctant to conclude. Sarsfields and Loughmore played out two bouts of extra time – that’s ninety minutes of hurling – and still they couldn’t be separated.

The news in advance that Noel and Brian McGrath were out injured seemed to dampen prospects of an upset. Surely Sarsfields would prevail now? And the early evidence seemed to endorse that view. They led by four at the end of a very tame  first half, which had little physical engagement and a lot of passing and pausing.

However, when play resumed Loughmore seemed to up the tempo and suddenly we had something noteworthy on view. Within seven minutes of the restart John McGrath had the sides level before John Meagher put Loughmore in front for the first time. Game on.

It got better for Loughmore. Against a strangely lethargic Sarsfields Loughmore found the openings. When Anthony Ryan was brought down in the ‘square’ John McGrath fairly rifled the penalty home. Some minutes later he got inside the defence and first timed another rasper to the net. With about six minutes to play the lead was eight points and some fans were heading for the exit to avoid the traffic.

Loughmore must surely be puzzled by the dramatic turn of events that occurred in the final minutes of the game. With four minutes to play they were still a bubbly seven-up. Even when Mickey Cahill broke through to fire home a goal for Sarsfields it seemed safe enough to file it away under the heading marked consolation.

However, as the game drifted into injury time John Maher suddenly found space to the left of goal to fire home another Sarsfields’ goal that cut the margin to a single point. In a frantic climax then it was Lar Corbett who scooped up possession and maneuvered enough space to hit a dramatic leveler.

Loughmore looked shell shocked but to their credit refocused for the extra time. Noel McGrath came on as goalie with Evan Sweeney moving to attack. They had the better of the first period of extra time but only led by the minimum at the break. Sarsfields got ahead in the second spell but a John McGrath free leveled it once more – Loughmore seemed to get their frees much handier all day.

The game then went to two further five-minute spells of extra time which were pretty uneventful. Joseph Nyland and Paudie Maher exchanged points and thus it ended all square yet again.

The tightness and the drama were saving graces in a final that never reached any heights of excellence. Sarsfields got Aidan McCormack’s red card rescinded during the week – Fergal Horgan is getting a lot of unwelcome publicity these days.

Yet despite the boost of McCormack’s return Sarsfields looked well below the form of previous years. Billy McCarthy is an obvious loss but they’re making some strange selection choices with Mickey Cahill at midfield and Stephen Cahill at corner forward.

Their best player was Denis Maher at full back. He’s gone from defence to midfield to attack in past years but could well find his best posting now at full back. Paudie Maher isn’t quite the towering figure of former years though I thought he did a lot to lift the team when needed. His brother, Ronan, had a very quiet afternoon, Pa Bourke is a shadow of his former self and overall Sars’ seem vulnerable. Corner back, Michael Purcell, deserves mention for a strong game even managing to hit two points.

Loughmore are the most spirited team in the county. Losing the two McGraths would easily dishearten another side but they just seem to keep hurling and doing the right thing. In the circumstances it would have been an amazing Mid title to win but on the flip side of that they’ll wonder how they let it slip from a winning position.

John Maher was their stand-out individual at centre back. John McGrath dominated the scoring, mainly from frees, though in general play he was quiet enough.

From all the evidence so far I suspect the county championship is more open this time than in past seasons. Kiladangan had a big win over Nenagh up North at the weekend and they’ll rightly fancy their chances of being in the mix for honours. They play Kilruane in the North decider. Sarsfields have brought in Dave Mahedy as coach in place of Paddy McCormack but for the moment they seem to have slipped back from former heights.

 

I can’t leave Templetuohy without mentioning the curtain raiser.  Earlier in the year Conor Gleeson did enough to coax and cajole me onto a selection committee with himself, Eamon Kelly and John Manley in a bid to lift the fortunes of Boherlahan/Dualla junior hurlers. On Sunday we stole a dramatic late victory over Holycross for the club’s first Mid title in the grade in thirty-nine years.

To the outsider winning a Mid Tipperary junior ‘A’ title might not seem such a big deal but everything needs context. Boherlahan hurling has been going through a rough spell. Twenty two years ago the club won the Dan Breen but since then it’s been a downward curve all the way culminating in the drop to junior status last season. For a club with such a noble history that was particularly hurtful.

Most of these players then have endured some fraught times in their hurling careers spending year after year firefighting relegation as the club dropped from senior to intermediate to junior. They have no experience of winning, for most this was their first ever hurling medal.

In that context then this was a huge win for the team and the club. It breaks the cycle of defeat and hopefully will be a stepping stone to further progress.

The manner of the win was heart-stopping. Holycross lost their centre back to a red card before half time but for spells of the game looked to be the sharper side. I thought their touch was surer, their decision making better and they hit some quality points. We were struggling to keep up and hitting bad wides in the process . The lead stretched out to four at one stage.

But this is a very honest Boherlahan group who have worked hard all year and they doggedly stayed in the game. Eventually we got a crucial goal, Lawrence Hickey finishing after a James O’Sullivan shot was saved by John Ferncombe.  The lead was back to the minimum though when Robbie Stakelum hit an almost impossible point to stretch it out to two I feared the worst.

Injury time was dramatic. James O’Sullivan underlined his key role in the win with a stunning goal to give Boherlahan the lead for the first time, though Holycross felt that Brian Barrett was fouled in the lead-up to that score. These are the breaks that can go for or against you. Holycross had a few chances to level the match, which would surely have meant extra time,  but Boherlahan’s defence held firm and then substitute, Conor Moloughney, polished it off with a cracking goal struck from a sharp angle.

It was a sore one for Holycross to lose but a huge win for Boherlahan who had to play their semi-final on Friday evening. That was a bruising encounter with Sarsfields at Templemore, which left Boherlahan at a disadvantage heading into the final less than forty-eight hours later. The team was also without two key players: centre forward, Colm O’Dwyer, is out for the rest of the year while Niall Manton will hope to be ready for the county quarter-final in a few weeks time. Given limited resources these are major losses.

Boherlahan now face Roscrea in a county quarter-final. Last weekend they had to grind out two wins without excelling. Improvement will be needed to progress further but the boost of this win will hopefully drive the team on to better things.

P.S. I wonder did anyone even notice. Last week I had Ballingarry fighting relegation to stay senior when of course there’s no relegation from the Seamus O’Riain Cup for two seasons. Didn’t I rail against that decision when it was made, so how could I forget so quickly? One of those senior moments! Anyway, Ballingarry can relax, their status is secure, though if they keep occupying this space they’ll eventually be caught.

 

 

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