‘Sceptre and crown must tumble down …’ go the old lines from James Shirley’s poem, ‘Death the leveller’. It’s as good an epitaph as any for Thurles Sarsfields this week. Corbett sees red as the champs bite the dust. How the mighty have fallen.
There were fallen champs too in the South. This time it was Eoin Kelly’s turn to see red as Killenaule scrambled over the line to set up a final with Swans. The Mid and West had expected outcomes, though up North there was a turn-up when Silvermines edged out Borrisoleigh to set up a novel-looking final with Kildangan.
It was certainly a hectic weekend of action where one was forced to make choices – and wasn’t it my bad luck to head the wrong direction on Sunday evening? Clonmel won out against the Ragg so I missed the most eye-catching event of the week. The prompt removal of Lar Corbett and Billy Heffernan by referee, Fergal Horgan, set the early tone between Sarsfields and Nenagh. That in itself was newsworthy but Eire Og’s eventual victory was the most sensational aspect of all.
It’s been an awful season for Sarsfields following their heroics of 2012. I saw them beaten twice in the Mid so Sunday evening’s outcome wasn’t entirely unforeseen, though one did expect that they’d perk up when the occasion demanded. However, when you get into a rut it can be difficult to escape and so their poor form seems to have continued on this occasion. On the positive side their exit will encourage other contenders to redouble efforts.
Two of those main contenders came through in the Mid on Sunday, though the victories of Loughmore and Drom weren’t without their problems. Moycarkey and Upperchurch certainly made it hot for both of them and that too will encourage other teams with ambitions.
The general expectation from the opening bout in Holycross on Sunday was for a comfortable Loughmore win over the ‘Church. The favourites did win alright but comfortable is not a word you’d apply to the process.
When Moycarkey beat Holycross in the previous round their key man was Kieran Morris. Like so many others he’s now gone Stateside for the summer so his absence was sure to be felt. The return of David Sheppard from injury would help lessen the loss but still there were long odds on a Moycarkey win going into this contest.
Yet the men from Littleton and surrounds appeared not to heed the forecasts and made it very awkward for the favourites who just about edged home in the second half.
A game of very poor standard was level at half time. It was all very tippy-tappy and loose from Loughmore who really struggled to get a grip on things. Eventually the McGraths and company engineered just about enough scores to get home by three but there were no stand-out performances and something much better will be needed the next day.
The second game was undeniably the better contest and again it featured an underdog throwing down the gauntlet in gutsy fashion to the favourites. Upperchurch were without talisman, James Barry, who is injured, though as a balance Drom were missing players like David Collins and David Butler who have also joined the student exodus to America.
Again I admired the manner in which the ‘Church drove into this game showing scant regard for reputations and really taking the battle to Drom. They made a very positive start but then nearing midway through the first half they got caught for two crucial and rapid-fire goals. Seamus Callanan batted in the first and Seamus Butler finished the second. Goals win games and those twin strikes were essentially the difference between these sides all day.
Yet the ‘Church refused to bow and kept up an admirable challenge. I was impressed particularly by county intermediate, Paudie Greene, who clipped over four points from play and looked a major threat all day.
For Drom Callanan was the key man getting the bulk of their score and having the measure of the ‘Church defence. I thought Liam Ryan hurled an amount of ball for the winners too and James Woodlock was another to show up well, including a scoring touch. On this form Drom will be fancied to take the Mid though on a different day I’d expect much better from Loughmore.
I expected a lot from Killenaule down South and while they duly unseated Mullinahone it couldn’t be rated as an impressive display. Admittedly a grey, dirty evening made conditions very difficult but the overall standard in this one was very moderate.
Killenaule seemed at times in the first half as if they might pull well ahead but Eoin Kelly singlehandedly kept them in check. The sides were level on seven apiece at half time and again in the second half Killenaule just couldn’t shake off Mullinahone.
It all came down to a very tense, tetchy ending. There were a few flashpoints and Eoin Kelly was on a yellow when he collected a second near the end. Killenaule just about held out.
I expected more from the winners. They’ve a strong half back line of Kieran Bergin, Declan Fanning and county U21 Joe O’Dwyer and in fairness they conceded very little to Mullinahone in that general area. Eoin Kelly got all the Mullinahone scores with just two points coming from broken play. The absence of Sean Curran was very damaging to the winners; his brother Paul was strong at centre back. The Killenaule forwards will have to deliver more if they’re to make significant progress this summer.
In the West Eire Og got through to meet Clonoulty once again after a stiff battle with Kickhams on Saturday night. Kickhams will rue this one because they had a real chance here of pulling off an upset. Eire Og were without Brian Fox, Eoin Kennedy and Dan Hogan and were struggling in the first half as Kickhams played the brighter hurling. Kickhams led by one at half time but then had Michael Heelan red carded early in the second half and eventually Eire Og got through by five.
And so four divisional finals are in place but county and Munster champs, Sarsfields, must now labour in the O’Riain cup. They should win it but it’s quite a comedown from the highs of 2012.