So now we know for definite – an August 19 date with Kilkenny, as expected, following the ‘cats’ second half mauling of Limerick in Sunday’s quarter-final. The minors too will be on the bill that day against Galway following the latter’s drubbing of Wexford at the weekend. By then of course we should know who else has made it to the senior final with Cork and Galway squaring up the previous Sunday in the first of the semis. In the meantime our U21s head for Ennis on Wednesday 8 in a bid for a clean sweep of Munster titles.

Meanwhile on the home front the sensational story of the weekend came from Templemore where Pa Bourke rattled in six goals as Sarsfields shredded Loughmore in a Mid final flop. In a clashing fixture down South Mullinahone confirmed impressions that they’re the best in the region with a win over Swans. In all of this the West is way behind with their delayed second semi between Eire Og and Cashel K.C. now billed for next Monday evening, which presumably means that the final won’t be played until after the All Ireland semi.

There are winter weeks when a columnist has to fish for material to fill space but I’ll tell you at the moment there’s a surplus with so much activity on so many fronts to choose from. The revelation in recent days that the County Board is coughing up around twenty five grand per week to prepare county teams is a sobering reminder of the reality of modern day team preparation. It’s great to have all those Munster titles won and to see the senior footballers make such progress in the qualifiers but the bottom line is that it costs – and costs a lot. Earlier in the year I heard an estimate that every time the senior hurling team trains it costs somewhere between three and five thousand euro. Some of this is a throw-back to the lavish days of the Celtic Tiger and you often wonder if sufficient readjustment has been made to reflect present day economic reality.

In all of this while it won’t be said publically but privately some will be happy to see the football odyssey at an end for the year. They went down to Down after a qualifier trip that attracted a lot of positive sentiment. It was a far cry from last spring and the exit of John Evans after a disastrous run of league games. I always thought the Kerry man’s parting volleys were a little too self-serving, seeing others as failing to live up to his high standards and thereby exonerating himself. Peter Creedon’s transforming of the scene presents a different narrative entirely. The minors now carry football hopes next weekend in their quarter-final clash with Mayo.

For our senior hurlers there’s that looming date with destiny on August 19. Kilkenny had their banana-skin moment in the Leinster final but now that they’ve found their footing once again they’re going to be, as ever, formidable opponents. It wasn’t quite the swashbuckling Kilkenny of past years, the ones who swatted away opponents like irksome flies. Instead they took some time to grapple with this Limerick nuisance before hitting turbo boost in that devastating spell in the second half.

I suspect the aura of invincibility that surrounded Kilkenny has been slightly tarnished this season. That Leinster final was an eye-opener and for the first half on Sunday they looked human as well with several of their iconic players misfiring. They could be grateful for more masterful displays from Tommy Walsh in defence and Shefflin in attack.

Ultimately Limerick’s undoing was self-inflicted. You can’t spill giveaway goals to Kilkenny and hope to prosper. The injury to Tom Condon was a serious blow and probably provided that inside weakness that allowed Kilkenny unlock the Treaty door. Still it has been a year of modest progress for Limerick.

Richie Hogan’s dismissal will remove one of Kilkenny’s attacking aces for the semi-final and they’ll worry about the well being of Richie Power too though I suspect he’ll be fine.  It’s all set up for what promises to be a massive semi-final collision.

On the other side of the draw Cork seemed to be in difficulty heading into the final phase of their quarter-final with Waterford but somehow managed to extricate themselves just in time. Impact subs like Sweetnam and Naughton were critical to that final surge of points that brought them from three-down to three-up. It was heartbreaking for Waterford because they seemed to have done enough to shade it but got caught on the line.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly Cork’s whereabouts in the hurling universe at the moment. A promising spring has led to a stuttering summer though they’ve managed to pull through and are now on their way to Croke Park where they often perform best.  One suspects they’ll need a significant pick-up in form for the Galway semi though Galway’s follow-up to the Leinster final will be interesting to watch. The doubters will remain unconvinced until the Tribesmen string together a few games rather than these one-hit wonders.

Anyway on known evidence thus far the bookies will be forecasting a Kilkenny\Galway rematch in September, which suits Tipperary just fine.

It’s a funny old game alright and two weeks in Mid Tipperary highlight just how volatile the game of hurling can be. Here we were last week lauding a clinical display by Loughmore in dismantling county champs Drom/Inch and then they fail to turn up for the final with Sarsfields. Perhaps they were still admiring their handiwork from the previous week and got hit by a blue tornado spearheaded by the rifle-shooting of Pa Bourke. For whatever reason a goal fest from the Thurles lads floored Loughmore and leaves followers head-scratching in a bid to uncover a true form line in this division.

Goals win matches, they say, but can I add now that they also ruin matches. Pa Bourke had three of them slammed past Loughmore in the opening ten minutes and the reigning champs were left stunned by the barrage to the extent that recovery was impossible. The triad all came from twenty metre frees, all very softly awarded, I felt; you certainly wouldn’t have got them in Semple Stadium. But Pa Bourke has a vicious drive and he’s certainly not shy about going for the jugular. He even had a fourth free (a ridiculous call by the ref this time) and rattled it off the base of the post.

Loughmore had scarcely time to draw breath from the onslaught though they did eventually get in a counter-punch when Liam McGrath cut through the middle and was fouled for cousin Noel to do a Pa Bourke at that end of the pitch. Yet, even that light relief was short lived because in added time before the break Pa Bourke pounced twice from play to bring his haul of goals to five. This time lax defending was to blame with Loughmore looking totally unnerved, totally spooked by the turn of events. At half time the scoreboard read 5-7 to 1-5 and it was game over for Loughmore.

In the third quarter the reigning champions did string together a better passage of play to outscore Sars’ by five points to three. But then Bourke struck again for goal number six before the assassin was withdrawn to loud applause from the large attendance. In his absence Aidan McCormack became the rifleman scoring 1-4 in a ten minute spell.

It was devastating play from Sarsfields albeit against shell-shocked opponents. Pa Bourke’s individual contribution of 6-3 was obviously the headline item but it was quite an impressive team performance. They’re very strong at half back where you have Padraic Maher and Michael Cahill as well as David Kennedy who I felt hurled impressively on Sunday. Lar Corbett spent a lot of time back in that zone too, especially in the second half, showing great work rate and enthusiasm even if he wasn’t featuring much in the scoring. ‘Redser’ has regained his place on the team too and is justifying his recall. Michael O’Brien is an artful dodger at corner forward and Aidan McCormack was something of a super sub when introduced in the last quarter. There’s no doubt they pack a lot of power though they don’t always produce it like this.

For Loughmore it was a stunning comedown from the previous week. I have great regard for David Kennedy who I thought showed more heart than any of them on Sunday – one of the few to emerge with credit. Aidan McGrath I thought cleared a lot of ball in the second half and Liam McGrath had moments of promise though working off scraps. Noel McGrath hit a consolation goal near the end but for far too much of the game he was anonymous. What surprised me was the manner in which Loughmore were out-fought by Sarsfields but I suppose when you’re hit by so many goals it’s difficult to find a response.

Anyway the Mid championship has been baffling. In early rounds I felt Drom were the form side but then Loughmore put that notion to bed before Sarsfields then brought another dynamic to the competition. Where the true form line lies has yet to emerge though I suspect the division’s top three will all be in the final shake up for county honours. For the moment, however, Sarsfields lead the field.

Is there any co-ordination in this county when two divisional finals clash head-on? I would love to have been at Clonmel on Sunday evening and obviously made the wrong choice by opting for Templemore but such decisions should be unnecessary. County Board is able to step in and order the cancellation of a West semi-final because of the football involvement of players but when it comes to streamlining fixtures we have four independent republics. It’s daft.

Anyway Mullinahone duly confirmed favouritism by collecting another South title at the expense of Swans. They are probably the one South side capable of an impact outside the divisional border so it will be interesting to see how they fare later on in the campaign.

To paraphrase the old Oscar Wilde line, to lose once to your neighbours is unfortunate but to lose twice is downright carelessness. That was the fate of Holycross last weekend who for the second time this season lost a senior championship tie to neighbours, Boherlahan. They met in the divisional championship earlier in the summer where Boherlahan pulled off an exciting win and on Saturday evening last the outcome was the same in an O’Riain Cup tie. The rivalry is strong between these neighbours’ children so this outcome won’t sit well around the Abbey.

Boherlahan did a lot of the groundwork in the first half against a strong wind so that they trailed by a mere three points at the interval. Then two goals by Seamie Leahy in the second half and a third by Brian Maher turned the screw on Holycross. It sends Boherlahan into the O’Riain semi-finals and for Holycross there’s the worrying prospect of a relegation battle.

Finally, our U21s head into hostile territory on Wednesday 8 for an U21 showdown with Clare. Tipperary will be chasing an incredible clean sweep of Munster hurling titles but will be outsiders in their quest against a Banner side with a number of senior panellists on board. Mind you this is familiar territory for Ken Hogan and colleagues after their earlier rounds in Limerick and Cork. This U21 side has been defying the odds all year. Honest endeavour has been the hallmark of the team thus far and I’m sure they’ll bring that same quality to Cusack Park. We’ve had some fractious encounters here in the past, ’99 the worst of the lot, so hopefully this one will be played in the best of sporting spirit. Good luck to them and to the minor footballers next Saturday.




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