WESTSIDE COLUMN – 7 DECEMBER 2012

 

Winter may be upon us and Santa about to pack his sack but the hurling pitches keep ringing to the clash of the ash. Sarsfields I’m sure kept a listening ear to Wexford Park last Saturday where Oulart-the-Ballagh once more dumped Kilkenny champions from the Leinster race. Ballyhale are out and Henry Shefflin is off once again to the A & E department. Presumably there will be a Sarsfields’ presence at Nowlan Park next Sunday when Oulart face Offaly champs, Kilcormac Killoughey in the provincial decider.
Locally the U21s maintain what is now a long-standing tradition of bringing up the rear end of the season. Clonoulty grabbed the West title last Sunday and in the process avenged the minor defeat by Cashel. The meeting of Loughmore and Sarsfields in the Mid decider next weekend should be a highlight.
And in other news there are drastic suggestions to revamp our club championship with multiple relegations proposed in a bid to cut senior numbers.
 
I suspect there was a little chuckle of satisfaction around Semple Stadium on Saturday when the word filtered through that Ballyhale were out of the championship. A last minute monster point from wing back Eoin Moore separated the sides at Wexford Park in a game where Henry Shefflin had to retire with ankle damage. It was quite a comeback by the Wexford champs who were hit by 1-3 in the opening minutes but somehow managed to chisel out a famous win at the ‘death’.
They won’t say it publically but privately Sarsfields will feel a tad more optimistic this week. Ballyhale have a proven pedigree whereas Oulart are still the ‘wannabes’ of the championship.  Mind you with a team that features the likes of Keith Rossiter, Darren Stamp, Darren Nolan and Rory Jacob the Wexford men will fancy their chances too, but somehow they don’t carry the high voltage of Shefflin and his mates.
Like last year it’s going to be a fascination campaign once again with all remaining sides fancying their chances. Incidentally the upshot of last week’s result is that Sarsfields are now installed as favourites to win the series. They’re listed at 6/5 with Loughiel Shamrocks and St. Thomas’s joint seconds on 7/2. Oulart, despite their giant slaying act last week, are available at 4/1 with Kilcormac listed at outside odds of 16/1. I wonder.
 
By now it’s an article of faith that the U21 grade is left to the tail end of the year. Amazingly on the first Sunday in December the West was ahead of the posse as the first region to stage its final. Clonoulty dispatched Cashel K.C. with something to spare but they’ll have to wait some time to know their semi-final opponents from the South where the penultimate ties are listed for next weekend. There appears to be too many independent republics around with little evidence of centralised co-ordination. Then again this has always been the way and there’s really no will to change.
Cashel’s minor win over Clonoulty some weeks back gave a certain edge to the U21 final where many of the same personalities were again going head-to-head. You certainly sensed an urgency in Clonoulty who didn’t fancy playing bridesmaids to the townies from the Rock for a second time in a matter of weeks. In the event there was never much threat that they’d trip up twice in a few weeks; they led by six at the break and won by almost double that in the end.
In these wintry conditions strength matters a lot in hurling and Clonoulty were certainly the more robust side with plenty of physique on board. They led 1-5 to 0-2 at the break, Aaron Ryan smashing in a fine goal after he was fed by Paul Hayes. But for a lot of wasteful shooting they’d have been out of sight by then. It mattered not. In the second half Conor Hammersley dodged his marker for a second goal and an own-goal was then gifted for their third. There was consolation for Cashel when Jonathan Grogan goaled a free and Dylan Fitzell scrambled a second near the end but it was very much damage limitation for the losers.
Clonoulty have a useful side from senior goalie, Jimmy Maher, to Conor Hammersley at corner forward. I liked the strong play of Kieran Quirke at number five beside Padraig Heffernan in the centre. County minor Sean Maher is another who’ll carry their hopes into the county series. It’s a grade they’ve never won but the winner of Loughmore and Sarsfields will surely be fancied here. Kilruane put out Nenagh up North.
For Cashel the lack of players up to the age was quite obvious. They depended again on the best of the minors such as the hardy Simon Delaney, Dylan Fitzell and Gearoid Slattery. I thought Michael Killian O’Dwyer did a lot of hurling for them at centre back.
 
As we head into the drudgery of Convention season there’s quite a drastic suggestion being tabled by a committee set up to examine our club championship structure. It’s a committee in a hurry, one that wants to cut our quota of senior sides by eight in just a few years. I suspect they have two chances of getting that through and you know what they are.
All of this comes against quite a troubled background over past years. Remember at one stage we were trying to relegate two per season in a bid to cut the number of senior sides. When that collapsed you had the outlandish decision to open the door to whoever wanted to try their hand at senior status. Then came the prolonged controversy over the botched relegation play-off, which eventually ended with Ballybacon saving everyone’s blushes by walking the plank voluntarily.
In truth it’s quite a disturbed background against which this issue is being revisited once more. Anyway the latest committee wants our present quota of thirty-two senior sides cut to twenty-four. Why twenty-four? Why not twenty-six, or twenty-two? No logical reason, it seems, except that it’s a nice rounded figure that somebody fancied. Was it based on an analysis that showed we had twenty-four worthy to be called seniors? Apparently not, just a random figure which clubs are asked to accept. The problem is that we have about five or six top-tier teams and you could draw lots with the rest so why decide that twenty-four is the model number?
Anyway the suggestion is that we stay with the present system for 2013 and then teams would be seeded based on their progress in that championship. The thirty-two sides would then be divided into two groups of sixteen, a top tier and a second division. The lower group would be divided into four groups of four with the bottom side from each group relegated. With one team being promoted this would mean a net relegation of three teams in 2013.
It sounds drastic and given traditional views in this county I can’t see it being adopted. Most people agree that we have too many senior sides, many of a poor standard, but finding a consensus for change is the problem. I suspect more modest proposals for a gradual shift might stand a better chance than this revolutionary suggestion. Anyway expect to hear more about this scenario in the new year.
 
It’s that time of year when books and book launches dominate and one is never short of Christmas reading material whether it’s the glamorous celebrity stuff or the more modest ventures that fill a particular niche in the market. In the latter category Jim Fogarty, has produced an invaluable compilation which charts eighty-one years of county senior hurling finals.
To my mind this is a novel idea for a book which has a very specific focus and delivers with crisp exactness on its objective. The Dan Breen Cup was first presented in 1931 and Jim Fogarty tells the story of each final up to 2011. It’s all very precise and concise with no padding or embellishments, just the essentials of each final. As a reference book this tome will survive and be revisited while many others will gather dust.
The book’s cover features the match parade prior to the 1969 final with Roscrea captain, Mick Hogan, leading out his team to face Carrick Davins, whom they would eventually trounce in a one-sided decider. Photographs are important to this book. Apart from a few gaps in the early years most champions are included as well as an assortment of other photos of presentations and the like. For the photos alone the book will be a sought-after item.
I associate the name Jim Fogarty with those statistical nuggets in programmes and yearbooks over the years, those teasers that often surface in quizzes and create endless debate. (Isn’t it a coincidence that in Jim Fogarty and Seamus O’Doherty Roscrea exported to Kilkenny two men of a like mind when it comes to matters factual; of course I must clarify that Jim was a Nenagh native adopted by Roscrea for whom he played minor and U21). That same forensic exactness shines forth in this production. It’s not a page turner with purple prose and gripping narrative. Instead it’s a reference book of immense value.
Ever wondered who won the first Dan Breen in 1931? Answer: Toomevara. They beat Moycarkey in the final and were captained by Martin Kennedy. Johnny Leahy refereed and the admission charge was one shilling with an extra bob for the stand. What about 1950? Borrisoleigh, captained by Sean Kenny, beat Carrick Swans. Or 1967? Davins beat Roscrea, whose goalie, Martin Loughnane, was aged 50 and had previously played in a final as far back as 1936.
It’s that type of book, a treasure trove of endless information, all very clearly and succinctly presented. You could be critical and say that the focus is too narrow with no reference to divisional campaigns or how the teams got to the final but it’s not that type of book. Seamus King has included all that information is his history of the county but Jim Fogarty’s remit was much more specific: to pull together the essentials from the most important game in the county each year since Dan Breen’s Cup was first on offer.
I for one will have this book thumb marked before long

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