WESTSIDE COLUMN 27 JULY 2012.

 

 

A first North title for Portroe and Loughmore’s humbling of Drom in the Mid were the highlight items from a busy weekend of club activity. A stirring second half from Portroe upset the old order up North with Liam Sheedy working the oracle once more. In the Mid Loughmore floored county champs, Drom, in emphatic style; their divisional final with Sarsfields this coming Sunday will be a big attraction. In the West the old order remains intact as Clonoulty brushed aside Cappawhite en route to another decider; the second semi was postponed.

There were great scenes of celebration at Nenagh on Sunday evening last. Underdogs Portroe took on long-time top-dogs, Toomevara, and wrote their own piece of club history with a memorable win. Nine-up with six minutes to play the gap dwindled nervously as the scoreboard clock counted down. In the end it took a frantic goalmouth scramble to hold three points of that lead and thereby inscribe a new name on the divisional roll of honour.

It’s another impressive insert on Liam Sheedy’s managerial c.v. and one I’m sure he’ll value highly. Standards undoubtedly have dropped in the North but it’s still a very competitive division with a dozen senior sides in the mix. Portroe’s pathway to glory saw them topple Nenagh and Toomevara in turn which reads impressively indeed for a side without noted county stars or indeed background of underage excellence.

This was a win that looked most unlikely at half time. Portroe had just played with a strong wind that carried some of Darren Gleeson’s puck-outs inside the Toome’ twenty metre line. Yet they trailed by a point at the interval. It would have been worse but for a goal just before half time when Michael Sheedy played provider and John Ryan added the finish. By then neither side had made a convincing claim though Toome’ looked that bit smarter and the Portroe attack especially looked weak.

Whatever was said in the dressing room at half time it transformed the Portroe attack especially. Mark Gennery announced the altered mood with a fine goal and when the Sheedys combined for Michael to whip in a second with ten minutes to play Portroe were definitely in command. At their peak they went nine-up, John Sheedy faultless on the frees, and now Toomevara really had a battle on hand if they were to rescue their title.

Characteristically the ‘greyhounds’ chased down the lead with typical determination. They weren’t helped by a string of very bad wides and a most glaring goal miss by ex-county man, Willie Ryan, who tapped wide with an empty net in front of him. But you don’t win as much as Toomevara have in the past without learning a few tricks. Where others would have panicked and gone for goals Toome’ kept tapping the points, Ken Dunne especially, and the lead began to shrivel. When Ken Dunne eventually whipped in a goal approaching full time, the fight back was on in earnest and a thrilling finish guaranteed.

Portroe were in retreat now though still managing crucial retaliatory points. Here’s where John Sheedy’s free taking was so critical and substitute Dinny Hogan added to the effort impressively too by winning some vital possession. All of this delayed Toome’s comeback but eventually with the game in added time the margin was down to just three points. It was a nervy finish for the new champions. In one of the last plays of the game Ken Dunne had a chance to save the match from virtually the same spot he’d struck the first goal but this time enough defenders got back to smother the shot and scramble clear off the goal line.

It’s a famous win which I’m sure will be celebrated long into the winter. They may not have individual star names but Portroe are certainly a well-drilled, even outfit with a fine competitive temperament.

Toomevara for their part still have a fair sprinkling of household names but I’m afraid they looked like a shadow of former teams which dominated the club scene in this county. I thought Benny Dunne played his part at centre back and his brother Ken was close to being the match hero but otherwise they were disappointing. Maybe there’s a ‘kick’ in them for the county series but I wouldn’t be betting on it.

Speaking of the county series one name you can certainly put into the mix is Loughmore/Castleiney following their tour de force against Drom\Inch on Saturday evening at Templetuohy. This semi-final replay promised much but eventually developed into an exhibition by Loughmore who really looked impressive as they dismantled the county champions. Admittedly Drom were without James Woodlock and David Collins but that hardly explains a sixteen point drubbing.

It had gone pear-shaped for Drom by half time. Loughmore were razor-sharp. In the very first minute John McGrath cut through and brought a spectacular diving save from Damien Young. A few minutes later the Drom goalie was helpless when another piercing run by Liam McGrath this time set up Evan Sweeney for the goal finish. Later in the half Sweeney turned provider for a Cian Hennessy finish and with a wide spread of point scorers Loughmore were dominant, leading by 2-14 to 0-7 at half time. Game over.

It was more of the same in the second half as Loughmore never relented. Eventually Liam McGrath soloed through to kick in a third goal and all the time the points kept sailing over Damien Young’s head. From numbers five to fifteen Loughmore had nine different scorers. It was crisp, clinical hurling with scarcely a chance wasted and all the time driven by a fierce hunger. Undoubtedly it was the performance of the year so far in our club championship.

I think the scientific skill of this Loughmore side is very impressive. Noel McGrath nominally starts at corner forward but clearly has the freedom of the park to go wherever his instincts take him. Liam McGrath is an exciting prospect, his free taking expertise an added extra to his game. John McGrath too is showing great potential and you can pitch in Aidan and Ciaran and another of the clan in Tomas at corner back. It’s the McGrath show alright but they’re not alone with even that great old warrior, David Kennedy, still contributing gamely as a reinvented forward. Eddie Connolly is the anchor man in defence where they’re tight and uncompromising. Seamus Callanan was ploughing a lone furrow against them in this game. It’s quite a knock back for Drom after a promising start to the season. The absences of Woodlock and Collins are exonerating factors but only go so far to explain such a collapse.

The Mid final is billed for Templemore on Sunday evening next and will certainly attract interest. On paper Sarsfields have a star-studded side but they haven’t played like stars thus far this season. They’re being listed as championship favourites but if Loughmore can resume where they left off against Drom then the ‘blues’ will face a tough examination. I’m looking forward to an intriguing clash.

In the West Clonoulty and Rossmore – very important to include the second half – remain on course to extend their dominance of the region after seeing off Cappawhite in the first of the divisional semis at the weekend. Eleven points was the end margin, comfortable and untroubled, though Cappa’ fought it gamely for spells of the contest.

There was only five in it at half time and even that modest margin owed most to a fortunate  break that fell Clonoulty’s way shortly before the interval. A shot from Paudie White came off the Cappawhite post and fell kindly to Jason Forrestal who didn’t look the gift horse in the mouth as he planted it past Franny Quinn.

But Cappawhite had shown some form in that opening period. Russell Quirke caught the eye when hitting three fine points and Jerry O’Neill was faultless from play and frees as they stayed in touch.

However, as the second half unfolded Clonoulty’s more expansive depth of talent began to show. Increasingly the Cappa’ attack especially started to flounder as James Heffernan, John O’Keeffe and company put up the shutters even in the absence of John Devane. Conor Hammersley, showing fine form, and Paudie White were heavily influential at midfield hitting seven points between them over the hour despite the very admirable efforts of Eugene O’Neill. Then in attack Timmy Hammersley had the edge on Thomas Costello, John O’Neill started to finally get free from the irritating grip of Ross Dunne and the likes of Tom Butler and Fiachra O’Keeffe were also finding the range.

In the end it was all very comfortable for Clonoulty who have Liam Cahill assisting this year. They’re back into another West final and have got there, one suspects, without over-exerting. They’ll be fancied in the final to add to their haul of divisionals though they’ll need to step up a few gears to challenge for the county.  Eire Og are fancied to beat Cashel whenever the second semi is re-fixed.

I note that some inter-county managers have banned their players from contributing to social media like twitter but no such restraint seems to operate in Tipperary. Lar Corbett of course has gone a step further to join the list of celebrity columnists with his weekly contribution to the Indo every Friday. In theory an inter-county player could offer interesting insights into different aspects of the modern game but in reality, of course, he’s totally hamstrung as to the content of his column. It’s hardly wise, for example, to offer negative views on people you’ll be going hip-to-hip with next week. Not would Declan Ryan be too pleased to read about in-house matters from the Tipperary dressing room over his Friday morning breakfast.

So what you get then is a very bland space-filler that either says nothing or slavishly tries to love-up to everyone. At all costs it’s straining to be politically correct and not offend anyone. All of which can be harmless enough until you go to the cringing extreme, as happened  last Friday, of claiming that standards of refereeing are ‘top class’. Hopefully it will win Lar a free or two in upcoming games but for most of us it simply stretches credulity into the realm of absurdity.

Anyway a big occasion next Sunday in Semple Stadium with those All Ireland quarter finals. Interesting to see how Cody and Kilkenny react to that Leinster final defeat. Most people expect that Limerick will feel the pain of a stinging backlash from the hurt ‘cats’. On past evidence Kilkenny have tended to rebound with real venom following a reversal. From Limerick’s perspective it will be a major indicator of their whereabouts in the hurling universe as they continue the process of team building. It will be fascinating to see how it pans out, though for the moment it’s difficult to anticipate anything other than a Kilkenny win.

The opening game too will be intriguing. I wasn’t alone in being impressed with Cork early in the year but that image has since taken a few knocks. The league final was a reality check and even though they were very close to Tipperary in the Munster semi their form in the subsequent qualifiers against Offaly and Wexford was no better than adequate. Sunday is a big occasion for JBM and company because defeat here would definitely undo much of the early season progress. On balance they’ll be fancied to progress to a semi-final meeting with Galway.

As for Tipperary we’ll have a watching brief on Sunday – neutral but keenly interested in the outcomes.

 

 

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