Having claimed four of the last eight county championships it is surely time for Thurles Sarsfields to now push ahead and make their mark outside the county. Their record in the Munster club series is poor, which I’m sure they don’t need reminding of as they prepare for a trip to Kilmallock on Sunday next. It’s a repeat of the 2010 fixture, which Sarsfields won narrowly, an outcome which should offer encouragement on what is a difficult assignment.

Otherwise the story of the week was the finalising of Eamon O’Shea’s cabinet; Michael Ryan and Paudie O’Neill complete the troika. It’s a promising partnership that combines a proven element with a fresh dimension. There was nothing fresh, however, about Nicky Brennan’s swipe at Padraic Maher during the week in relation to the Michael Rice injury.  More anon.

It was encouraging to hear Sarsfields’ manager, Seamus Quinn, saying that they intend giving the Munster club championship a determined lash this year. They need to. With four county titles safely stashed away from eight campaigns it’s time to broaden horizons. For a club that has a record number of county wins the absence of even a Munster title is a blemish. Eliminating that blotch, however, won’t be easy with Sunday’s winners facing Cork’s Sarsfields in the semi-final.

Two years ago Thurles travelled to Kilmallock and came home with a five-point win. That sounds reasonably comfortable but actually it was a tough, tight affair with the Tipp champs getting the breaks that carried them over the line. I remember a major turning point early in the second half when Graeme Mulcahy knifed through the Sarsfields’ defence but then saw his shot glance over off the crossbar. Almost immediately Lar Corbett managed to poke home a goal at the other end to set up Sarsfields for the win. Michael O’Brien got a second goal and in a very tight game those two strikes proved critical against a wasteful and goal-less Kilmallock team.

This time the teams face off once again with that 2010 game acting as a backdrop. Once more Tony Considine is at the helm in Kilmallock where it seems no expense is being spared in their bid to progress in the championship. They recently had an overnight training camp in Waterford which reflects the level of investment in their preparation.

In the Limerick championship Kilmallock were particularly devastating in the semi-final where they ousted reigning Munster champions, Na Piarsaigh. Their final against Adare was a more subdued affair where they grafted out a three point verdict. Graeme Mulcahy scored 3-3 in the semi but was altogether quieter in the final.

Mulcahy is one of three players from Limerick’s championship team and obviously will take some watching at corner forward. Gavin O’Mahony anchors the defence at number six while Paudie O’Dwyer leads the attack at number eleven. They’ve a useful midfield pair in Paudie O’Brien and Robbie Egan, the latter captaining Limerick’s U21s this season.

Andrew O’Shaughnessy has been on the panel but, to the surprise of some, hasn’t featured during the campaign. In any case he’ll be missing on Sunday because he’s currently on honeymoon.

Some aspects of Sarsfields’ selections this year have attracted comment. They supplied two players to the county’s All Ireland winning minor fifteen but neither is even listed on the senior panel.  I don’t know of any other club where that would happen and you could either read it as a reflection of their depth of talent or a policy of protecting young players from too much early exposure.

At the other extreme then they have a forty year old, Jim Corbett, playing centre forward while the well-seasoned Johnny Enright is finding his second wind as a midfielder. In his mid thirties now Johnny Enright has adapted remarkably well to the move to midfield playing some of the best hurling of his career this season.

Of course the county senior players are the highlight individuals in the side, the players whom they’ll look to for leadership in this one. Padraic Maher never fails to rise to the occasion and you’d expect that he’ll be central to their resistance on Sunday once again.  Michael Cahill too is crucial to their rearguard and it will be interesting to see if they deploy him to police danger man, Graeme Mulcahy, in the corner or retain that formidable half line of Kennedy-Maher-Cahill.

In attack in the county final Sarsfields were fortunate that Aidan McCormack hit such a rich vein of form and I suspect this time they’ll hope for more from both Lar Corbett and Pa Bourke. Denis Maher too had a disappointing outing the last day so more will be expected from him likewise.

The betting market gives Sarsfields the nod in this one. They’re listed at odds of 1/2 with Kilmallock available at 15/8.  I’d rate it more a fifty/fifty game with home advantage favouring the Limerick champions. If Sarsfields win they’ll have a home semi-final against their namesakes from Cork while Kilmallock will have to travel if they get through. Either way it promises to be quite a contest.

Two months after the Kilkenny defeat and we finally have a new management in place to plot a course for the 2013 season. The official announcement was made last Tuesday night but that merely confirmed what was already in the public domain. Even ‘The Irish Examiner’ was able to publish the names ahead of the County Board statement.

The new cabinet offers an interesting mix with O’Shea and Ryan providing a link to 2010 and Paudie O’Neill as coach bringing freshness to the scene. In that sense I think it offers the best possible blend. You needed something new to reinvigorate the scene and Paudie O’Neill provides that element while at the same time you have the safety of re-engaging with the winning formula from 2010.

Ex-St. Mary’s man, Paudie O’Neill, will be mostly unknown to younger readers but some of us will remember him well from the seventies. He was on the Tipperary minor panels of ’74 and ’75 and was a team mate of Eamon O’Shea’s on the U21 panel of ’78. Those U21s lost an All Ireland final replay to Galway but that defeat was followed by a spectacular three-in-a-row in subsequent years, a surge of success which eventually led to the ending of the so-called famine.

Paudie was a stylish player who eventually transferred to Dublin where his primary teaching took him. In more recent times he has been heavily involved in the coaching scene in Dublin taking charge of minor and U21 sides. Interestingly Paudie Butler was lavish in his praise of O’Neill and sees exciting potential in his appointment as coach to the Tipperary seniors.

I knew Paudie well in the seventies in Dublin so I can certainly concur with Paudie Butler’s assessment. I suspect he’ll be very much on Eamon O’Shea’s wavelength in the coaching area and will add an exciting dimension to the set-up. He, like the rest of the management team, has our best wishes. They face a tricky task in trying to re-invent Tipperary hurling after August 19.

Indeed the fall-out from August 19 continues to reverberate with Nicky Brennan’s broadside at Padraic Maher and others sure to keep the pot boiling as we approach winter. Writing in ‘The Kilkenny People’ Brennan targeted the Tipp half back for the incident which led to the Michael Rice injury.  He wrote of ‘appalling ill-discipline in which the perpetrators went unpunished for the reckless use of the hurley’.  Coming from a Kilkenny source that is indeed rich material.

I think most observers, and indeed the TV pundits, saw the Padraic Maher incident as no worse than a careless pull that had an unfortunate outcome as one hurley slid up along another and caused the horrific injury. If Mr. Brennan wants to identify the reckless use of a hurley then he might look at how the referee got injured in the 2011 All Ireland final or how Lar Corbett got a cut under the eye while the ball was at the other end of the field last August. I don’t think he cut himself shaving!

Most of these comments one can readily dismiss but when they come from an ex-president and a hurling man to boot then it’s a different matter entirely. Injuries in hurling do happen, sometimes accidentally and even freakishly. To assume malicious intent simply because a player gets injured is ridiculous but then again there’s a Kilkenny tradition of making that assumption that dates right back to the sixties. You sometimes expect sour grapes when a team loses but in Brennan’s case it’s sourness in victory.

It seems there is no way the sleeping dogs of August 19 will be let lie. Extracts from the soon-to-be-published Lar Corbett book, which appeared last Sunday, will surely keep the fires stoked. Lar’s ghost has certainly been busy. If the ‘Indo’ extracts are anything to go by then the book will have a stridency that his column has lacked.

His version of the famous ‘tactic’ certainly adds a new perspective to the whole fiasco. Tommy Dunne, John O’Brien and Eoin Kelly are all implicated in devising and persisting with the move, even when it was patently obvious that it had descended into farce. There’s a spreading of the blame here, which I suspect won’t be appreciated in some quarters. Come to think of it I wonder how Eamon O’Shea views all this publicity especially if Lar intends staying on board for 2013.

Our old friend ‘Babs’ – the golfer – I’m sure will also have something to say about the content. There are uncomplimentary accounts of his team talks not to mention the dropping of Brendan Cummins.  We had become accustomed to quite a bland weekly column from Lar but this is hard-hitting stuff, a case of Lar strikes back.  As a publicity ploy ahead of the launch it will certainly have stirred interest.

P.S. Back to Sarsfields and their most recent county final win. Was it title 31 or title 32? I stated 31 last week and was too late to change when I was reminded that the record shows 32. The disputed year is 1908 when Tom Semple and his Thurles Blues were on a winning streak. Canon Fogarty talks in his book about ‘the seemingly impossible becoming a certainty’ when Glengoole beat them in the final. Thurles objected and won in the board room but the championship was later declared void.  A void championship is surely a cancelled championship so how can Thurles then claim the honours? Others I’m sure will have a different view but I’m staying with 31 titles.



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