Sarsfields’ ride again.  A ‘Blue’ day at the Stadium as the locals outstay Drom to claim title thirty-one, their fourth of the modern era.  A game of ebb and flow finally settled Sarsfields’ way in the decisive last ten minutes. So for the third time since ’05 Drom walk in the shadow of their urban neighbours.

Fewer than seven thousand clicked through the turnstiles on a chilly October afternoon to see a final that may not have buzzed with passion early on but certainly raised the temperature in the second half as Drom came storming back. Had Callanan’s flick bobbed inside the post instead of outside with four minutes remaining we might now be anticipating a replay – or perhaps detailing a remarkable victory for the outsiders. It was that close at the end of a game that impressively showcased our local fare through some sparkling individual inputs.

In a year when our domestic championship featured too many uncompetitive games it was pleasing to have a final of prolonged uncertainty to round it all off. Mind you at half time it was all tilting heavily Sarsfields’ way as they took a seven-up advantage to the dressing rooms. That healthy scenario owed most to Aidan McCormack’s swoop for a smashing finish to Damien Young’s net over a minute into added time.

That was a heavy blow to the outsiders who’d stayed tight and competitive throughout the opening spell. In fact they broke from traps smartest with ‘Springer’ himself, Johnny Ryan, hitting two early points to set Drom rolling confidently in the opening phases. They went three-one up against the wind before eventually being reined in.

Once the game settled to any pattern Sarsfields were edging it, though their much-vaunted attack wasn’t exactly hitting a scoring spree. However, gradually, piecemeal they clocked up the points, the classiest ones coming off the stick of Aidan McCormack, who was already emerging as the game’s star, forcing the removal of Eddie Costello. Corbett, though, and also Pa Bourke were having relatively subdued outings as the absence of a goal kept the lead to manageable proportions.

At the other end Michael Cahill was shackling Callanan quite effectively and apart from Johnny Ryan’s outfield contribution there was only the odd flash from the Drom attack. It all played out as a subdued opening half, which drew a muted response from a very phlegmatic attendance. It had an air of inevitability about it, the impression underlined with McCormack’s goal leaving Drom with quite a challenge for the second half.

Drom were slow to re-emerge for the second half, some stern words, I suspect, being delivered in interval homilies. There was nothing slow, however, about their re-start when a Seamus Butler delivery spilled invitingly around the goalmouth where his brother, David, pounced for an instant, and reviving, goal.

Game on, one felt, this was just what neutrals wanted. And yet it didn’t immediately drive on the ‘Raggies’ as Sarsfields kept daylight between them. Johnny Ryan again emerged as Drom’s most productive score-getter – what a smooth striker he is – to keep the pressure on Sars’.  Pa Bourke frees were Sarsfields’ main response to every Drom advance and so the lead stayed around the four-point mark.

Then came the game’s most thrilling phase just over midway through the second period. The spark that ignited it all was Callanan’s goal. I think it was substitute James Ryan who supplied the delivery for Callanan to tap home from close quarters. In truth it was poorly defended and on another occasion it might have been called as ‘square ball’ so Drom certainly got the benefit on this one.

There was even better to come from the reigning champions in the follow up. Woodlock manoeuvred clear to hit the leveller and then a neat little inter-play out on the sideline set Callanan away for a quality lead point. The outsiders were one-up with ten minutes to play and the wind in their backs. It was an ideal platform from which to drive on and ‘nail’ a famous win but somehow it was Sarsfields’ who grasped the initiative in that crucial final phase.

In the final ten minutes Sarsfields’ outscored Drom by five to one. The ageless Johnny Enright stepped up to land two huge frees to regain the advantage before Pa Bourke made it two-up. Then came Callanan’s near miss when again the Sarsfields’ inside defence was caught indecisive, the flick dribbling just wide of the post.  A Pa Bourke free made it three-up before Callanan was impeded for a twenty metre free just to the right of the posts. He drilled low and the shot was turned away for a ‘65’, which Johnny Ryan pointed.

Appropriately the man-of-the-match, Aidan McCormack, had the game’s final point but there was still more excitement as a delayed puck-out resulted in a throw-in on the twenty metre line but Sars’ managed to scramble it clear and the final whistle saw the honours rest where on balance they deserved.

It was a thrilling end, then, to a game that perhaps was slow to wind up. Sarsfields greater breadth of talent got them over the line though Drom will agonise over this or that incident that might have swung it in the end. The absence of David Collins, such a crucial player in last year’s win, was certainly significant as the Drom attack didn’t really have enough firepower to win the day. Callanan’s supporting cast needed to deliver more if Dan Breen was to stay at The Ragg.

Afterwards Aidan McCormack was a popular choice as man-of-the-match. He’s been a precocious talent who has struggled a little to leave his mark on big occasions but this game certainly announced his ‘arrival’.  The skill level is of a high order and this tour de force came with great timing on a day when some of his attacking colleagues were quite muted.

He had rivals for the honour in Padraic Maher and Johnny Ryan, two players who dominated this award for the past three years, Maher winning in ’09 and ’10 and Ryan taking the accolade last year. It’s a testament to their consistently high standards over successive seasons.

Near the end of the action there was generous applause for Johnny Enright when he was substituted. Playing in his tenth county decider he’d played a major role, as he’s done all season, in his new-found freedom at midfield. He’s one of the most popular Sarsfields’ players and it’s a tribute to his durability to be still playing at this level in the autumn of his career; indeed the veteran Jim Corbett fits that category too, playing centre forward in a county final in his fortieth year.

Others too stood apart for Sarsfields such as Michael Cahill and Stephen Maher in defence, Michael Gleeson at midfield and the more sporadic inputs from the likes of Pa Bourke and Michael O’Brien in attack.

Sarsfields now face Kilmallock in an ‘away’ fixture in the Munster club series on Sunday week. For a club of its tradition the absence of even a Munster title represents a major blemish on the record, one which needs addressing. This generation now has four county titles so they must drive on to leave their mark outside the county boundary.

For Drom it must be heartbreaking to once again be bridesmaids at Sarsfields’ feast. They should take encouragement from the fact that Sarsfields’ lost five finals in the nineties and noughties before eventually making the break in ’05. Perseverance ultimately pays off, though that’s cold comfort for them in this week. There’s probably a psychological barrier now with Sarsfields but they were tantalising close this time and if they keep coming back I’ve no doubt they’ll eventually put one over on the neighbours. They’re probably short a player or two in attack to take them that extra mile.

I missed the intermediate final – watching ladies’ football would you believe? – but I was told I missed nothing worthwhile as Silvermines won as they wished. Jason Forde is obviously one whom Eamon O’Shea will be viewing in the coming months and it seems he played a major role in the ‘Mines return to senior status.

The ‘Mines now join Borrisokane as recent North elevations to senior ranks via intermediate success. It gives the division a butcher’s dozen of senior clubs though many would argue that several of them would be more at home in a lower grade. The same could be said of quite a few clubs in the other divisions. I suppose the fact that the North had no team in the county semi-finals for the past two years puts a particular spotlight on this issue of the number of senior sides countywide – it currently stands at thirty-two.

It’s an ongoing bone with Seamus O’Doherty and he once again chewed it in Sunday’s match programme. He’s certainly not a lone voice in claiming that too many teams, masquerading as seniors, drag down standards and hinder the development of the game generally in the county. Slash the number of senior sides, is the suggested solution, thereby enhancing the competitiveness at both senior and intermediate levels.

It all sounds plausible, though I’m not convinced it’s as simple as that. If you take out the top five or six teams in the county then it’s a toss-up with the rest. In recent years we saw how clubs will strenuously resist relegation because of its negative connotation. Ballybacon eventually saved people’s blushes by voluntarily taking the drop last year and it doesn’t seem to have done much for them judging by their exit to Sean Treacys in this year’s intermediate campaign.

Anyway it’s  a hot issue and one that needs to be debated. If Seamus O’Doherty succeeds in that alone he’ll have done some service.

Finally, it was nice to see the Cappawhite heroes of a quarter century ago being honoured at Sunday’s county final. Their final victory over Loughmore back in ‘87 is certainly etched on my mind because of its spiritual significance to an entire division. It was the day when the West awoke and the alarm call was subsequently answered by Clonoulty and Cashel in what became the golden era for the division’s senior hurling. Cappawhite were undoubtedly the trail blazers with others following their lead.  Any hope the recall of the great event would stir the present generation of hurlers in Cappawhite to arise from their slumber?

At a time when the men of ’87 are being feted the club is going through a particularly challenging period. It’s no comfort that their neighbours in Annacarty are making waves and Sean Treacys too are showing some green shoots. The lack of underage success seems to be feeding through to adult ranks. It’s a pity but their plight probably reflects the fate of a lot of clubs in these difficult times.





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