If Thurles Sarsfields need any spur to drive them on in their quest for a first Munster club title then they need look no further than 2010. Two years back they froze in the frost of Pairc Ui Chaoimh, spurning a great opportunity. Now surely is a time for atonement – same opposition, same high stakes but, hopefully, a vastly different Sarsfields.

Elsewhere Nenagh Eire Og and St. Mary’s Clonmel have qualified for the county minor decider; and three-cheers for the men of Kilsheelan/Kilcash on their history-making county junior triumph.

Munster club hurling titles are a precious commodity and Sarsfields’ failure to harvest one thus far must be a major irritant for the club. The defeat of 2010 was especially hurtful but they’re fortunate now to have an opportunity to put it right. Then as now De Le Salle stand in the way, the Waterford champions guarding an unbeaten record in the Munster series as they seek to make it three titles out of three.

In fairness to Sarsfields there’s been a more crusading spirit about their Munster campaign this year than on any previous occasion. They needed to dig deep at Kilmallock and again against the Cork champions they had to show nerve in the critical final moments as their opponents drew level. Those games should steel the side for the final against a De Le Salle team that has a fine record in this competition.

Like Sarsfields the Waterford champs had to do a late, late trick against Newmarket-on-Fergus in the semi-final. A tough game up at Sixmilebridge went to the proverbial wire with the sides deadlocked before De La Salle worked an injury-time winning goal through John Keane. In a sense it was similar to Richie Ruth’s late strike for Sarsfields with the fans screaming for a point and the players being braver and going for the jugular.

There are other similarities too between the teams with the respective half back lines regarded as the engine rooms of the sides. For De Le Salle Allstar, Kevin Moran, controls matters from number six with Bryan Phelan and Eoin Madigan on his flanks.  In that set up it will be interesting to see who tags Lar Corbett.

Mind you at the other end there will be tagging needed too. Michael Cahill presumably will police Mullane, which could mean a move to the full line during the match. Paidi Nevin, Jake Dillon, and Jack Kennedy are others who’ll need watching.

Midfield will be interesting too with Dean Twomey and Eddie Barrett likely to face Johnny Enright and Michael Gleeson.  Ultimately I suppose Sarsfields will hope that their forward potency will carry them through. A big focus will inevitably be on Corbett and Pa Bourke though as we’ve seen the likes of Aidan McCormack, Michael O’Brien and Denis Maher can be match winners too.

It’s all down to spirit on the day. The winter can be a great leveller on hurling pitches and often it comes down to the team with the greatest passion. Sarsfields are strong favourites at odds of 1/2 with De Le Salle available at 15/8. However, the three matches so far in this campaign have been on a knife edge, so I’ll be surprised if it’s otherwise on Sunday. Here’s hoping Sarsfields do the business.

If you want to experience the essence of the GAA then you have to witness a parish taking its first-ever county title after decades of endeavour. No other sport embodies such a sense of identity with the local region and the sheer pride and elation that comes when neighbours-united bring home a major trophy.   Last weekend we had two great examples of the phenomenon with St. Thomas’s taking their first Galway title and Kilsheelan/Kilcash capturing the Tipperary county junior crown, their first ever adult hurling title.

I thought of the late James Holohan on Sunday afternoon at Boherlahan and how he’d have relished his native place joining the list of county hurling champions for the first time.  The beautiful village must have looked resplendent to the returning parishioners on Sunday evening as they celebrated a famous win. The parish of Willie Barrett and Tom Larkin and Jim Kehoe had found new heroes after a hectic struggle with Moycarkey\Borris.

The weather was miserable but it failed utterly to dampen the enthusiasm of two teams who tore into the collisions with fearsome passion. Okay, so it was junior hurling on an ugly November afternoon, but there was something heroic about the effort invested here.

Moycarkey, with the elements backing them, seemed to have the edge in the first half. The South defence was under strain, Robert Clancy posing particular problems at full forward for Moycarkey. But the dyke held without a major breach and Kilsheelan got to the break just two adrift.

Surprisingly Bill Maher was confined to the full forward line for the first quarter where he was chaperoned by Moycarkey’s most experienced player, Eamonn Ryan, a hurler who’s worn the county jersey at several levels including one season on the senior panel. Eventually the minor captain moved out and during the second half he was back in defence as part of a fine overall contribution to the win.

It’s amazing how one high-profile player can inspire an entire team and help them break new ground. John Leahy did it for Mullinahone, Declan Browne likewise for Moyle Roves and now Bill Maher continues the trend with Kilsheelan.

But apart from the fine talent of Bill Maher, Kilsheelan needed a lot of bravehearts to pull off this particular win and it was certainly the collective rather than the individual that prevailed in these conditions. The tackling and scrimmaging for possession was awesome at times and in fairness to both teams they went at it in exemplary spirit.

Kilsheelan won the second half and crucially managed what Moycarkey failed to achieve in their period of dominance – score a goal. In these conditions a goal was always going to be vital and it was Patrick Larkin – great Kilsheelan name – who eventually delivered the punch line. They got two points ahead and even though the excellent free taking of Willie Dempsey kept Moycarkey in tow they could never fully wrestle the initiative back from the South champions.

It’s one they’ll celebrate for some time in Kilsheelan and Kilcash. Moycarkey will be disappointed but in fairness it’s a win that probably does more for a club like Kilsheelan than it would for one with the history of Moycarkey. For county chairman, Sean Nugent, it was a particularly sweet occasion presenting his own club with the trophy. He did a bit of double-jobbing too as selector to the side and sure it’s good to see a man who enters high office remaining committed to the home base. Well done to the newest South intermediates.

Actually it was a good weekend all round for the South with St. Mary’s of Clonmel pulling off a great minor hurling win over Cashel K.C. to earn a county final place against Nenagh, winners over Holycross in the other semi. A powerful second half from Mary’s at Drombane on Saturday sank the King Cormacs who really had no answer to the overall strength of the Clonmel side.

It was tight enough in the first half where a goal from Liam Ryan – Cappawhite/Donaskeagh extraction – gave Mary’s the edge. They led by four at half time and even though a Raymie O’Leary goal gave Cashel some hope in the third quarter it was Mary’s who really polished off this game in the final phase. Goals from impressive substitute Ross Peters (Willie’s son) and Darren Cass were the icing on a really fine win. There was a dozen points between them at the end and there’s no quibbling with a margin like that.

It was an impressive showing from Mary’s. When the ball was loose they were quicker onto it and won the physical tussles all over the pitch. No one epitomised the drive and energy of the side better than midfielder, Jason Lonergan, a real star performer who covered acres and showed real quality on the frees as well. Colman Kennedy had an interesting battle with county colleague Dylan Fitzell. The Cashel man did okay early on but he was often ploughing a lone furrow and as the game wore on the Mary’s centre back emerged as one of the stars of the win. Sean Gunne too looked strong at full back.

Mary’s certainly had a better spread of talent as opposed to Cashel who depended too much on a few individuals like Dylan Fitzell, Simon Delaney and Gearoid Slattery to pull them through. Anyway it will be an interesting final with Nenagh favourites but Mary’s well placed to give it a shot. It’s encouraging to see hurling progressing in our biggest town.

One quibble I have about this minor championship is its lateness. There was a time when it had a high profile alongside the county senior final but now there seems to be a fatalistic attitude that such alignment is not achievable any more. The extension of intermediate and junior grades to Munster and All Ireland series, and the need to meet such deadlines, has further helped to relegate minor to the butt end of the year. It’s a pity. Minors hold the future much more than juniors and intermediates and they deserve better conditions than late November.

On the county front things have been eerily quiet since Eamon O’Shea and his new cabinet was appointed. There have been no major announcements about panels or plans though I assume activity is taking place in the background. Even new trainer, Fergal O’Callaghan, hasn’t been officially announced though his appointment has been well publicised in the national media.

So far there are no big-name retirements from the panel though Damien Young and Shane Maher have apparently withdrawn and won’t be part of the new set-up.

On the other side a number of players have been called in and presumably will be part of an extended panel to embark on winter training programmes.  These include minor centre back Thomas Hamill and Bill Maher who apparently was invited on board too but has declined the offer, which is probably sensible. He has plenty of time to work his way through U21 and will be better equipped for the rigours of senior hurling in a year or two.

Jason Forde, Silvermines, John O’Dwyer, Killenaule, and John Meagher, Loughmore, are part of the group who’ve also got the call and Seamus Hennessy, Kilruane, is coming back after a year when injuries kept him sidelined. Those are the names I’ve heard and there may be more – or fewer? – because nothing official has been announced.

The new trainer is seen as something of a coup. He’s been involved with Munster rugby through their Heineken Cup campaigns and was previously involved with teams like Limerick and Offaly. His main passion I read is rowing, having represented Ireland in world championships in ’92, ’93 and ’95 but there is also a hurling background: he won county juvenile titles with Ahane.

P.S. Wasn’t it extraordinary viewing near the end of that Galway final as the match officials seemed to develop a collective myopia? I wonder if there’ll be any follow-up?

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