There was a touch of déjà vu at Kilmallock on Sunday last as Sarsfields relived their 2010 experience. Once again two goals proved essential items as the ‘Blues’ chiselled out another hard-won victory in a testing encounter. A game of quality and intensity hung in the balance right to the end with Sarsfields ‘nailing’ the issue through a brace of injury-time points.

Lar Corbett chipped in with a valuable 1-2 and off-field he continues to make the headlines as well with that book launch keeping him in the public eye. All of this on a weekend when Tipperary drew an Allstar blank and Anthony Daly flexed his muscles in Clare.

Kilmallock was always going to be a testing environment for the Tipperary champions. The 2010 game was sure to be a motivating factor for the Limerick champs and on home turf once again they were going to do everything to avoid a repeat. Six yellow cards told something of an abrasive Kilmallock approach so Sarsfields needed to be primed and ready for the collision.

To their credit Thurles were, in the jargon of the trade, ‘up’ for the job, rebuffing suggestions that they’re a bit soft for winter hurling. This was a game where players needed to dig in and win the hard ball against hard-hitting opponents. Both individually and collectively Sars’ matched the requirements to carve out a win that should set them up for a determined assault on this elusive provincial championship.

We’re back to clichés again with the old well-worn line that goals win games. Against goal-less Kilmallock Sarsfields once again hit two that proved to be precious lodgements to the account. The first was a real tonic coming after a sluggish opening by Sarsfields where Limerick midfielder, Paudie O’Brien, set the early tone with three fine drives into the wind. Sarsfields did recover from those initial blows and were level when Pa Bourke fairly stitched a twenty-metre free to the rigging. It was the cue for Sars’ to drive on and eventually go in five-up at the break having played with the lively wind in their backs.

Overall it rated a satisfactory half for the Tipp champs though it was noted that a mere two points of their 1-7 had come from open play. Padraic Maher was superb in that half dominating the game from number six, drilling endless supply of ball back to the forwards and of course providing valuable cover for a Thurles inner defence that many people felt would be under strain. It was a Sars’ defence that lost Stephen Maher to injury but little was seen of the anticipated threat from Graeme Mulcahy.

It was a half too where Kilmallock tempers boiled over due to the free count that went Thurles’s way and led to team manager, Tony Considine, encroaching onto the pitch to remonstrate with the official. It’s the type of action that Tony would lambaste in his column; gesticulating to the crowd to join in his protest did him no favours either.

Five points was a very modest lead given the wind and it was quickly down to a mere two on the restart as Kilmallock resumed with a burst of scores. Then Lar drove a mighty one from outfield to steady the ship but with real zest to their play now Kilmallock got to within one of the leaders on three occasions and it looked ominous for the Tipp champs.

The second goal was critical to the outcome and it was a gem. Slick ensemble play saw the ball channelled from Pa Bourke through Denis Maher and then Mikey O’Brien who set up Corbett for the finish. It sent Sarsfields into a comfort zone once again but Kilmallock still refused to go away. Winning primary possession was proving difficult for Sarsfields, even on their own puck-out, and Kilmallock kept hitting back. The ‘Blues’ could be grateful for the outstanding work of David Kennedy in this half as Padraic Maher’s influence waned a little.

Once again the Limerick champs got it back to a single point and one had visions of extra time being needed as three minutes of added-time was announced. But in the end Sarsfields’ greater class told with Mikey O’Brien and Pa Bourke hitting the insurance points to close out a memorable win.

A large dollop of the credit for this win must go to the Sarsfields defence, especially the half line where Padraic Maher was supreme in the first half and David Kennedy outshone him in the second; Mickey Cahill was steady throughout. On balance Kilmallock probably shaded midfield though both Johnny Enright and Michael Gleeson had useful moments too. Bourke and Corbett led the scoring in attack though high praise is due to Mikey O’Brien too, especially in the second half. Denis Maher had some fine individual items of note including one great second half point into the wind.

Overall it was a win that sets up Sarsfields now for an all-out assault on this championship. They have the quality players if they can get the mental side right and maybe sort out one or two selection items. They have their namesakes from Cork in Thurles for the semi-final on Sunday week which offers a great opportunity to make the final.

Lar Corbett is certainly the man in the glare of publicity at the moment with the launch of that book and a ‘Late Late’ appearance to promote the venture. The extracts that have been published will certainly act as teasers for the public. Commercially he seems to be on a winner here though other fall-out from the venture might not be so profitable.

I’m just wondering how Eamon O’Shea views all this rampant publicity from one of his players. Other managers have even banned tweeting by panellists and here we have a key player revealing background details from within the panel of who said what and so forth. Generally this is material for retirement where all restrictions are removed and freedom of speech means what it says on the can. Is there a risk here that Lar will become the Kevin Cassidy of Tipperary?

There is a growing sense that Lar is revelling in this media glare and that recent contributions go way beyond the desire to simply tell his side of the tale. As an example last week you had the publishing on ‘The Hogan Stand’ website of a letter sent to Lar from a correspondent from Dublin. It was portrayed as an example of the type of abuse Lar has to endure when in fact it was anything but abusive. Critical it certainly was, telling Lar that his job was to score goals and make goals for others instead of acting the clown and then adding that the book would have sold well after 2010 but not so well in 2012.

Why Lar felt the need to photograph this letter and upload it onto a website for public consumption is puzzling. If this reflects the ‘abuse’ he’s got then he’s very lucky. That particular letter probably reflected the feelings of many followers so you have to question the motivation behind its publication.

There is a certain code of ‘omerta’ within all panels where in-house affairs are kept strictly in-house so that they’re not used against the team.  Lar seems to be treading in dangerous territory here, unless he feels his inter-county career is over. At the moment there is surely something uncomfortable about a player so willingly getting involved in public controversy while still part of an inter-county panel. I suspect Eamon O’Shea will have something to say on the issue and it may well represent his first and most pressing problem on assuming the mantle of manager.

Problems too for a certain Anthony Daly after publication of those photos from the Clare minor hurling final and the brawl that ensued. Unfortunately there’s nothing particularly unusual about a brawl at a club game but the sight of a high-profile inter-county manager in the thick of it all is particularly troubling. It sends a disturbing message and gives plenty of fodder to the association’s enemies within the media and without.

The Clare incident comes at a time when the association is grappling with other violent flashpoints, such as a football game in Limerick, and is exactly the type of publicity that the association doesn’t need. Ironically Daly is one of the more respected managers but this incident will have inflicted major damage to his image and credibility as both manager and TV pundit.

Other sports aren’t immune from such brawls either but you rarely hear about them in the media when they happen on rugby or soccer pitches. The GAA attracts such publicity from parish leagues up that any outbreak tends to immediately become a news item. The GAA’s relationship with the media can at times become a double-edged sword. Anyway I’m sure we’ll hear more about the fall-out from the Daly affair.

As usual the Allstar selections have sparked debate and maybe controversy following the announcement of the hurling winners on Friday night last. Galway getting more statuettes than Kilkenny has certainly drawn comment as has Tipperary’s absence from the list entirely. Is it unique for the Munster champions to be without an award winner? Or for the defeated All Ireland finalists to out-score the All Ireland winners? I don’t know but I’m sure the statisticians will supply the answer.

At a glance it seems surprising that a team which retained Munster and played in both league and All Ireland semi-finals should be without a winner but when you scan deeper perhaps the surprise disappears. These awards are for individual excellence rather than team impact and I don’t think a major case can be made for any Tipperary player. ‘Bonner’ Maher, I suspect, was closest but then he missed most of the early season and like so many of the team had a poor All Ireland semi-final. Nor could you construct a major case for Padraic Maher or Pa Bourke so Tipperary’s absence from the list is understandable. Ultimately the All Ireland semi-finals and final weigh heavily in these decisions and on that score Tipperary had little to offer.

The choice of goalie is perhaps an area that I would question on two fronts. It wasn’t a great year for ‘keepers generally but Brendan Cummins’s omission from the nominations was surely questionable. His Munster form was as good as any and against Kilkenny he was mostly powerless. Anthony Nash got into the Cork side because of the injury to Donal Og and was then dropped before being recalled. Goalies with far better seasons in the past have failed to even get a nomination. Nicky Quaid would have been my choice for number one. Anyway these things are very subjective.

Shefflin’s eleventh award is a remarkable achievement as is the winning of the player of the year accolade at this stage in his career. His second half in the drawn All Ireland final was certainly the stand-out impact of the season. I suspect his true worth to Kilkenny won’t be fully appreciated until he steps aside.



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