Westside Column 20 December2019

WESTSIDE

 

It will be a case of déjà vu for the U-21 hurlers of Holycross/Ballycahill and Kiladangan on Sunday next at Templederry in what will be a reprise of the 2017 decider at the same venue.

That’s the outcome from last Sunday’s semis where the North champions went a man down but still survived a second half rally by Ballingarry; it was second half heroics too from Holycross who overturned a first half deficit to overpower Clonoulty/Rossmore.

Holycross have developed a habit of starting slow and coming strong in the second half in recent games. They looked down and almost out in the Mid final against Sarsfields but came thundering back in the final quarter to force extra time where they edged the verdict.

On Sunday last the deficit wasn’t quite as large against Clonoulty but, nonetheless, the pattern was the same. Another slow, sluggish start saw the West side, albeit with wind advantage, in command early on to eventually go eight-up.

This time, however, Holycross started the recovery before the break, hitting the last three points of the half to go in just five adrift and well set to drive on with the wind at their backs on resuming.

The Mid champions dominated that second half. They simply out-battled the West lads all over the pitch, winning crucial rucks and denying Clonoulty possession. Even when the West champions got their hands on the ball they were swarmed by Holycross and couldn’t find space or openings. The image of Dillon Quirke in one instance being crowded out and penalised for over-carrying typified the pattern.

Then there was the extraordinary contribution of the man-of-the-match for Holycross, Darragh Woods. He scored ten of their eighteen points with a remarkable eight of them coming from open play. It was an astonishing tour de force, a winter wonder that did more than anyone else to dethrone Clonoulty.

To hit eight points from play in these winter conditions is just astounding. He struck them off both sides from all angles and distances – I can’t recall an easy tap over on any occasion. Apart from the points he had other significant inputs into the win also: one delightful pass set up Bryan O’Mara for a second half point when few others even saw the possibility.

Of course he’s been doing this for the Holycross seniors all year as well, hitting a massive total of outrageous points in their O’Riain Cup semi-final win over Templederry for instance. He was part of Liam Cahill’s all-conquering U-20 panel this year, though his underage career with Tipperary teams has been a bit chequered.

The talent is massive. Perhaps he just needs to find a level of consistency with county selections. Incidentally he’s a grand-nephew of Martin McGrath who featured with Tipperary back in the 1980s, so the pedigree is strong.

Clonoulty will rue not paying more attention to the threat posed by Woods. They looked well placed early on in this contest when the Holycross defence in particular was under the cosh. Dillon Quirke brought a courageous save from Ewan Bourke midway through the first half and a few minutes later the goalie saved again from Quirke only to see the rebound dispatched to the net by Sean Ryan (R).

That goal was central to Clonoulty’s first-half progress. With Cathal Bourke finding the range from frees and ‘65s’ they eventually slipped into an eight-point lead. It took Holycross almost twenty minutes before Darragh Woods hit their first score.

I think the game was turning, though, before half time. Holycross now had Bryan O’Mara patrolling back on the half back line and he added security to a defence that looked under strain earlier. Holycross came more into the fray with the last three points of the half from Stephen Flanagan and Woods (two) to set up their second half surge.

Midway through the second half a Darragh Woods free leveled the game and thereafter Holycross drove on. Very similar to the Sarsfields game once they got momentum moving they just powered ahead with a succession of rousing points. Woods was the main architect but there was again a massive collective effort from the Mid side.

Clonoulty did their best to try and rescue the day and came close to a goal on a few occasions. Dillon Quirke was fouled on one opportunity and James Ryan (Con) had his shot saved on another. In fairness Holycross had their goal chances too so these items tend to cancel each other.

In the end there was no denying the more compact side won the day. You might say Clonoulty couldn’t find their way out of the woods.

The weekend results set up a fascinating final at Templederry on Sunday, which will be a replay of the 2017 decider. On that occasion Kiladangan took the prize with a feisty display but I reckon the Mid champions are in a strong position to try and balance the score on Sunday.

Both sides were very young in 2017 so I reckon many of the same players will be involved again this time, which adds an extra layer of intrigue to this clash. For both clubs the stakes are very high.

I recall an early incident early in that 2017 game where Kiladangan’s Ciaran Kelly met Bryan O’Mara with a heavy charge. It earned him a yellow card but also set down an early marker. Kiladangan were in feisty mood and they dominated Holycross in that game. An early goal from Tom O’Meara gave the North side the advantage and they never lost the initiative.

Coincidentally the same Ciaran Kelly was red carded for Kiladangan last Sunday in their win over Ballingarry and will miss Sunday’s final unless there’s a successful appeal during the week.  His loss will be major for the North champions.

I expect this to be a cracking final because both clubs badly need some Christmas cheer and this could be just the ticket. Kiladangan’s 2019 story is amazing. They’ve already lost senior, intermediate and minor ‘A’ county finals so they won’t want to add a fourth defeat. Remember the famous Oscar Wilde quote: “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as unfortunate; to lose both looks like carelessness”. How about losing on the quartet? Would that represent downright incompetence?

On the one hand it’s an incredible record for Kiladangan to be winning North titles and qualifying for so many county finals; the flip side, however, is that losing them all is demoralizing and can become a habit.

Holycross too have been coming up short. They narrowly lost the 2013 county minor final in controversial circumstances and it was a similar narrative this year when they were pipped by J.K. Brackens in the Seamus O’Riain final. They’ve had promising underage teams coming on stream but getting over the line has proven problematic.

For both then Sunday’s final carries major significance.

That 2017 win by Kiladangan was their first on their own. Holycross previously won in 1978 and 1996. Familiarity and the memory of 2017 should add real spice to this encounter.

Elsewhere at the weekend Liam Sheedy was back in his tracksuit patrolling the sideline as Tipperary resumed hurling action with a Munster league game versus Clare at Nenagh. What was mostly a second string formation seemed to be in a winning position before being caught by a late Clare push.

It’s not a game that will bother anyone though I hate one-point defeats given our history of them. The concession of two first half goals proved quite damaging, though Tom Fox got one back early on resuming and Tipperary seemed to have the edge for much of the second half. Tellingly though Clare hit the last four points to scrape home by the minimum.

With only three of the All Ireland side lining up – Ronan Maher, Michael Breen and Jason Forde – it was very much an experimental team in the Tipp colours. Forde hit fourteen of our nineteen points, five from open play. Paul Flynn hit three second-half scores which was a significant contribution. Craig Morgan and Paddy Cadell had useful games.

I don’t think reputations will be built or broken on games like these. Clare looked like they had more preparation done; they stayed the distance and had a better spread of recognizable names, which probably got them over the line.  Tipp’s lack of forward threat was notable from viewing the podcast which was a welcome development by the Munster Council and ‘Irish Examiner’.

Tipp face Limerick in round two of this meaningless competition on Friday night at the Gaelic Grounds. Mostly the panel is busy packing bags for its holiday departure at the end of the month.

Elsewhere Convention time is upon us again; it’s a happy assembly this time as we review a year of major achievement. Tim Floyd has the pleasant duty of outlining the successes. Inevitably his report, as always, provides a thorough record of all the year’s events. Otherwise it’s not an election year so not a lot to excite delegates there.

One item that might draw attention is the financial situation where I’m told a significant deficit will be reported. It’s a topic that’s gaining nationwide headlines with many counties deeply in the red. Expect to hear more on the subject.

 

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