Westside Column 18 December 2020

WESTSIDE

 

What’s rare is wonderful and so when Kiladangan and Loughmore line up for Sunday’s county final throw-in it will be a unique occasion. They haven’t met previously at this juncture – in fact they have little enough prior history – so everything will be novel in a novel coronavirus year.

Advance anticipation can often prove unfounded but this decider really does have the potential to be a cracker. Kiladangan are the form and fancied team but they’re up against a Loughmore side surfing a wave of momentum at the moment in both hurling and football.

Speaking of marine metaphors Kiladangan’s position reminds one of the famous lines from ‘Julius Caesar’: “There is a tide in the affairs of men/Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune”. Trust old Will Shakespeare to leave us an image of such clear-water clarity.

There has been a sense throughout the latter stages of this campaign that Kiladangan are riding such a tide of time. Their story is one of latter-day emergence building incrementally to a position where they now stand on the threshold of history, one match away from a first ever county senior win. Their stars seem aligned, but don’t rule out the possibility of a Loughmore eclipse.

This Kiladangan era has its origins in 2004. That was the year they broke through one glass ceiling, winning senior promotion following county and All Ireland intermediate titles. By 2008 they’d taken a North senior title, the club’s first in over sixty years.

From there it’s been onwards and upwards. There were further North titles in 2013, 2015 and 2016, the latter season noted for a first county final appearance since the 1930s. It ended poorly but they could be forgiven for falling heavily to a Sarsfield’s side then in its regal pomp en route to accumulating four-in-a-row.

Last year though judgments were less forgiving. They took another North crown but this time stumbled before Borris-Ileigh on the big day. There was a sense of the team not performing once more in a county final and that particular ghost will continue to hover in the background until it’s finally exorcised.

This then will be the club’s third county final in five seasons. To paraphrase Wilde losing one might be rated unfortunate, losing a second downright careless, but losing a third becomes unthinkable. And therein lies the pressure point for the Puckane side on Sunday.

Longmore’s story is quite different. ‘Fado, fado’ they were a football force before first making their mark in senior hurling in the 1980s. In fact, it was in 1980 that the big break came with a county intermediate win over – guess who? – Kiladangan. Tom McGrath recalled on local radio how the vanquished formed a guard of honour for them after the game in a memorable gesture of respect. This then is Loughmore’s fortieth senior hurling season.

By 1983 they had progressed to a county senior final but fell to Borris-Ileigh on their maiden mission. Four years later they lost out tantalisingly on their second county final appearance to a late Austin Buckley point for Cappawhite. It prompted the then nonagenarian, Bill Ryan (Laha) of Bloody Sunday association, to bemoan the fact that he’d probably not live to see his beloved parish win a first county hurling title. He need not have worried; he was still around when they finally reached the holy grail twelve months later with a replay win over Borris-Ileigh – sweet revenge for the 1983 game.

Since then the lads from Loughmore and Castleiney have appeared in three further finals, winning in 2007 and 2013 before losing to Sarsfield’s in 2014. All the while, of course, they’ve been an ever-present power at football where their title haul stands at 14, the last achieved in 2016. This time they’re on a quest to match the great hurling/football double of 2013 following their weekend win over Moyle Rovers in the football semi.

Loughmore then know how to win county finals – Kiladangan have yet to crack the code. And therein lies the great unknown ahead of Sunday’s final. We know how Loughmore will react but we’re unsure if Kiladangan will once again be spooked by the big day.

The bookies have Kiladangan listed as slight favourites and that seems pretty accurate to me when everything is factored in. Tide and time seem to be on Kiladangan’s side but anything short of their best will be inadequate against the force of nature that is Loughmore and Castleiney. Either way I’m anticipating a memorable one.

In other news the Mid division will have a new senior hurling side for 2021 following last weekend’s intermediate semis where eight-point victories were the order of the day: Moyne/Templetuohy too strong for Boherlahan and a late surge by Gortnahoe/Glengoole sweeping aside fourteen-man Kickhams.

I saw the Moyne win which was very comprehensive. It was tight at the end of a quite tentative first half. Darragh Hickey, in his new role as a full forward, set up Tossy Ryan for a cracking Boherlahan goal, which helped them to a marginal interval lead. It seemed inadequate given the wind they’d played with in that half, and so it transpired as Moyne drove on to a point-strewn success on the turnover.

Gearoid O’Connor was the star of the show for Moyne. From play and frees he just tortured Boherlahan all day, ending with eleven points on his score card, four from play including one real beauty when he careered down the left wing and shimmied dummies several times before dispatching the score of the match from the side line.

They had other big names too who stood tall including Tossy Hamill and Diarmuid Fogarty. Paul Maher made one excellent second half save from Darragh Hickey. Stats once more were revealing: Moyne’s 23 scores against Boherlahan’s 11; Boherlahan’s meagre total of 1-1 from second half action, the point a long-range free by goalie, Joe Ryan.

Word filtering through from the second semi over in Holycross told of a Kickhams’ lead initially before a last quarter reversal when down to fourteen men after Devon Ryan collected a second yellow. It’s a disappointing one from the West side whose play seems to be as spotty as the proverbial curate’s egg – good only in parts.

The relegation play-off at the Ragg on Saturday produced quite a stirring contest between Eire Og Annacarty and Burgess. At stake was survival in the top flight for 2021 and the body language of both sides suggested this was one worth fighting for. They certainly went after it energetically and the game swivelled on a few key moments.

In a sense it was a game of the two penalties. Midway through the first half Brian Fox was deemed to have illegally restrained Stephen Kirwan but free-taker Stephen Murray blasted the penalty wide. A let-off for Annacarty then who held a marginal two-point lead at the interval.

Then in the final quarter with the game on a knife-edge Eire Og engineered a penalty into the same goal. It was neatly worked, Aidan Griffin giving a little pop pass behind the defence to Paul Devlin who was grounded inside the area by goalie, Ronan Tucker. Up stepped Darragh Money to dispatch the shot to the net. A missed penalty and a converted one is a net turnover of six points.

In fairness Annacarty had a very questionable decision deprive them of another goal early in the second half. An initial shot was saved but the ball spun up in the air for Donal O’Dwyer to tap to the net. It would have been very controversial if they’d lost by a few points.

On balance I thought Annacarty deserved to take the spoils. Donal O’Dwyer hit five first-half points from play, which was a huge contribution. Tom Fox was quiet for much of the game but made a few crucial catches in the second half. A late catch by Brian Fox in defence too was important in keeping Burgess at bay.

Eire Og’s battling spirit as much as anything won the day as they retained their status for 2021. It’s disappointing for Burgess to drop a level after just two years in the top flight.

Replacing Burgess in the Dan Breen for next year will be either Lorrha or Mullinahone who play the Seamus O’Riain final at the weekend. Not having seen any of the O’Riain games leaves me in a poor position to make any judgment – so I’ll desist. Lorrha have been receiving strong reviews all year for their lively play but the old dogs for the hard road are still campaigning for Mullinahone. It’s an interesting one which I hope to see.

Others too will hope to see more of the action next weekend with the expected easing of spectator restrictions during the week. What number will be allowed in a stadium like Semple will be interesting to see. It will mean more headaches for club officials who have to divvy up available allocations. Sadly, some loyal, and life-long supporters will miss out. It’s the times we live in.

 

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