Westside Column 17 November 2017



When you consider the poor returns from our other club champions in Munster competitions, Ballybacon-Grange’s progress in the junior series is all the more commendable.

On Sunday at Ardfinnan they hosted Cork’s best, St. Catherine’s, and produced a little slice of club history with a famous win. It sets them up for a big Munster final date with Waterford’s Ardmore on December 3 at Mallow.

These Munster and All Ireland club competitions have their critics, yet there is something special about them. In a sense they are a throw-back to the GAA’s roots. Remember initially it was all about the club. The inter-county aspect was a development that only evolved over time to eventually become the shop-window of the games. How appropriate then that the legislators are now trying to regain some exclusive space for the club in the overall scheme of things?

There is a familial aspect to club teams that is never quite replicated at inter-county level. It’s a togetherness, a shared ambition, a oneness driven by local bonds. It’s especially powerful when it comes from small rural pockets like Ballybacon and Grange.

On Sunday the Tipp champs made their Munster mark. (Kenmare weren’t even Kerry’s best, it seems, so that can be set aside). St. Catherine’s though carried the Cork mantle after a final replay the previous Tuesday evening, so this contest had a definite Tipp/Cork flavour.

It was worrying for Ballybacon in the opening quarter as they struggled to find any traction in this contest. The Cork champions seemed to be hurling on a higher plane, coming smartly to the play, crisper in their touch and eventually racing into a four-nil lead, albeit with some wind assistance.

It took the Tipp side time to get dug in but when they did the Cork lads knew they had a battle on their hands. Eventually an Aaron Lonergan free got Ballybacon off the mark and by half time they had worked their way into the game with Brendan Cummins landing a few crucial long-rangers to send the teams to the dressing rooms level at the interval.

The critical score of the game came early in the second half. Daniel O’Regan, disguised in a number twelve jersey, collected possession about thirty metres out and let rip with a shot that flashed into the right corner of the net. It was a strike worthy of its match importance.

It was also a score that wiped out Catherine’s lively restart to the half when they hit three unanswered points, two from Daniel Mangan who won a Cork senior medal this year with Imokilly. Amazingly O’Regan’s goal was the tipping point and the visitors wouldn’t score again in this contest.

By now Ballybacon were wading into the fray with passion and fury. Hurling at this time of the year isn’t for the fainthearted, it requires doggedness and edginess in every contact and the Tipp champs had the warriors to deliver just what was required.

Eventually Ballybacon got three-up but they struggled to make it safe.  Aaron Lonergan wobbled on a pair of frees before Cummins delivered a monster from inside his own half to put a precious four in the gap.

Catherine’s were now chasing a saving goal and came closest when Brendan Cummins turned away a Daniel Mangan free three minutes into added time. Earlier the goalie made a brave catch under the crossbar and came out with a little war-dance as the whistle blew for a ‘square’ encroachment.

This was Ballybacon’s day and fittingly the man who opened the scoring closed it out; Aaron Lonergan’s final point came five minutes over time.

Brendan Cummins was crucial to this win, scoring six frees, commanding his goal line on every lob and generally giving leadership to all around him. His brilliance coupled with the sheer feistiness of his team mates, who scrapped for everything as if life and limb depended on the outcome, was the combination that Catherine’s just couldn’t handle. Ballybacon’s unyielding defence was especially crucial in the second half.

The team from Ballynoe, near Fermoy, will feel aggrieved with some of the refereeing but will know too that they were out-fought in the trenches. Denis Walsh is the club’s best known former hurler hereabouts; his son, William, played half back on Sunday.

Ballybacon now face Ardmore in the final. The Waterford champions wiped out Clare’s Bodyke in the other semi. Even if it turns out to be a step too far for Ballybacon lack of effort certainly won’t be part of the script.

Returning from Sunday’s game I was thinking of Thurles Sarsfields who launched volume 1 of their club history on Friday night at their clubhouse. If our premier club could only muster some of the Ballybacon drive to compliment their unquestioned class they what a force they’d be?

I enjoyed Friday night and the hurling banter as locals and outsiders joined in celebrating the launch of part 1 of Liam O’Donnchu’s labour of love. It’s a history of our most famous club so not surprisingly this opus had to be broken up into two volumes, Friday night’s offering bringing the story up to 1960 with the remainder to follow within two years we’re promised.

The author certainly doesn’t lack for material. Think about it: Thurles was the birthplace of the GAA so the club was central to the national story of the organization as well as the local narrative. The fact that Thurles won the first All Ireland in 1887 adds yet another strand. Then the unmatched success of the club through the decades piles on more layers of essential material for the hard-pressed author.

Liam O’Donnchu has done a superb job of collecting and shaping a vast amount of material into a readable narrative. The early chapters plot the founding of the association in 1884 and the part played by Thurles in the process. That first All Ireland win of 1887, played on Easter Sunday, April 1 1888, cemented the role of Thurles at the heart of the GAA nationally as well as locally – and of course it set the bar for future Tipperary’s successes.

The final was played in Birr where Thurles defeated Meelick of Galway and understandably considerable scope is given to such a momentous achievement. Liam has a roguish eye for some non-hurling aspects of the event too. I love the account of the Birr Petty Sessions which were held a fortnight after the game and dealt with the consequences of some drunken and disorderly behavior on the day of the match:

“The King’s County Chronicle recorded how Thomas Meara from Roscrea had been fined ten shillings for beating a man with a stick, how Thomas Mallow had been ‘one of the rioters on the day of the hurling’, but had given a false name and was now fined twenty six shillings, or a month in prison. More than twenty men from south King’s County and North Tipperary were fined between five and twenty shillings for drunkenness. These included Thomas Coy, fined seven shillings and six pence for being drunk in charge of a donkey and cart.”

The book was launched by Tony Wall, one of ten from the club who have captained Tipperary to All Ireland glory. It’s an incredible record for any club and, of course, one that we all hope Paudie Maher will add to next year.

Tony Wall, who captained Tipperary to victory in 1958, gave a colourful account of his upbringing and development as a hurler. As a minor he had a rather painful introduction to Mid Tipp senior hurling in 1951 and he read a paragraph from the book to illustrate the point. Sarsfields were playing Moyne in a Mid game and the casualty list was long:

“Michael ‘Blackie’ Keane still a minor player was in his first senior championship season with Sarsfields. He was injured after ten minutes of play. Another minor hurler, Tony Wall, soon joined him with a head injury. Larry Keane was knocked unconscious and carried off, while Michael Sheehan, who replaced him, was carried off injured having broken through for the best goal of the game.”

Needless to say the Moyne club took exception to the press reports of such ‘a tempestuous affair’ with their secretary writing to the local paper and claiming that three of the injured players were enjoying themselves at a dance on the night of the game.

Anyway it’s all there and more for the public to enjoy in a book that spans almost 550 pages. Liam O’Donnchu has done a huge service to Sarsfields and the wider GAA family. ‘Thurles Sarsfields GAA Story’ costs €25 and is available in Thurles at Bookworm, Lár na Páirce, Eason and Thurles Sarsfields Social Centre or online from www.bookworm.ie It can also be ordered by post (€10 extra) from: Liam Ó Donnchú, Ballymoreen, Littleton, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. I suspect it will be in big demand this Christmas.




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