Westside Column 9 November 2018

WESTSIDE

 

It can best be described as a chastening experience for our new county champions. Clonoulty/Rossmore carried the hopes of the county into Munster but took quite a thumping from championship favourites, Na Piarsaigh.

An eighteen point lesson from the Limerick champions represents the worst ever outcome for a Tipperary club since this championship commenced back in 1964. It’s four points worse than our previous nadir when Eire Og Nenagh surrendered to Sixmilebridge in the 1995 final.

It doesn’t make for pleasant reading for Clonoulty this week but the stats are what they are. The reality is that quite an ordinary Clonoulty side achieved something extraordinary by winning the county title. They then faced one of the best club sides of this, or any generation, and the result was what we saw at the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday.

It’s an outcome that will feed into the ongoing debate about our club championship. It comes a week after Michael Ryan’s interview with Vincent Hogan where the former manager questioned the quality of the Tipp club championship. It’s more fodder to that particular narrative.

I’ve no wish to be over-severe on Clonoulty this week. Their county final was an outstanding achievement and will live long in the memory after the details of this game are well forgotten. They were never going to beat Na Piarsaigh so it was always a test of just how close they could come. In that regard I’m sure they’ll be very disappointed with their efforts whatever about the result.

Clonoulty weren’t helped by Michael Ryan’s failure to make the starting blocks at midfield due to injury, his place going to James Heffernan. They struggled from the get-go, Na Piarsaigh’s slicker method and movement highlighting a difference in class between the teams. I expected Clonoulty to bring great energy and effort to the game to try and pressurize their more esteemed opponents. It never happened.

Clonoulty looked way off the pace and tempo of the game but that’s often the impression when one side is so superior and makes their opponents look inadequate. The movement of Na Piarsaigh just seemed to bamboozle Clonoulty at times and that was never more evident than when Kevin Downes rattled in the first goal. The Clonoulty marking seemed non-existent.

Prior to that goal the Limerick champions indulged in something of a point fest. Already Adrian Breen was emerging as their main threat but Ronan Lynch was pitching in impressively from wing back too. Clonoulty had little response, a pair of Paudie White points their only first half flags from open play.

Peter Casey goals either side of the half time break really put the seal on the outcome. They were fourteen up at half time and when it stretched out to nineteen shortly after resuming we were really into embarrassing territory. Injuries to a few key Na Piarsaigh players and, I suspect, an element of easing off meant that it didn’t get any worse for the Tipp men. They might even have sneaked a goal or two by way of consolation but really there’s no way to sugar-coat this: it was a mis-match.

From the debris of defeat there wasn’t much Clonoulty could take from the experience. Declan O’Dwyer certainly saved them from an even worse fate on a few occasions. I thought Ciaran Quirke was strong in defence and John O’Keeffe battled away as manfully as you’d expect. Timmy Hammersley too kept probing for openings but overall the teams looked to be from different grades in what was a desperately disappointing game.

Ironically Clonoulty’s inadequacy in this game comes in a year in which our club championship was very competitive with a lot of tight games. Perhaps that tightness was at a mediocre level. Certainly Sarsfields slipped back into the pack this year after so many seasons of being well ahead of all chasers.

Our All Ireland club record is very poor, Borrisoleigh being the last winners from the 1986/87 season. However we have been close on occasions since then. Cashel K.C. could easily have won out in their three-game saga with Kiltormer in 1991/92. Toomevara too were close, possibly closest in 2006/07 when losing that semi-final to Ballyhale at Portlaoise. Sarsfields also have been near the breakthrough when losing their semi-final to KIlcormac-Killoughey in 2012/13. Maybe that’s being hopelessly romantic about it all, seeing what might have been rather than what was.

The debate will continue regarding our club championship. At the weekend Mullinahone dropped from Dan Breen to Seamus O’Riain where they join fellow southerners, Carrick Swans. The grading system is gradually bringing the strongest teams to the top tier and ultimately, I suspect, those sixteen will be the championship contenders without a divisional tie-up. Eventually the Seamus O’Riain will be rebranded.

Meanwhile Boherlahan’s junior year continues to prosper with the Bs securing an historic double for the club on Saturday last at Littleton. Mullinahone were the hapless victims of a powerful performance from Boherlahan’s second side, which creates its own piece of history for the club.

It was the club’s first ever county ‘B’ title but even more notable is the fact that they become the first club ever to complete the ‘A and ‘B’ double in the same season.

The game itself requires little enough analysis. Mullinahone got hit by a first half whirlwind and they never recovered. Playing with a very strong wind Boherlahan broke from the traps in stunning fashion with John Hayes hitting an immediate goal. He had another in the bag before half time and with Willie Hickey and Brian Maher in great scoring form too the game soon took on a one-sided look.

Mullinahone did have a few first half goal chances, which they spurned, and that really put paid to their hopes. Boherlahan led by fourteen at half time and when John Walsh goaled soon after resuming it really was game, set and match for the Sash. The final margin was a whopping nineteen points.

It’s a classic case of a rising tide lifting all vessels. There’s no doubt the ‘Bs’ benefitted from the ‘A’ success. With the sides training as one panel the momentum easily transferred and Mullinahone were the victims of it all. Luckily too the ‘A’ team was able to advance without raiding the ‘B’ section too much. That’s often the reason why it can be difficult to win both these grades in the same year.

Anyway this was a classy performance by the ‘Bs’. They had some tough battles along the way, especially against Drom/Inch in the Mid final and Templederry in the County semi, but on this occasion they really turned on the style.

For the club it’s been an amazing turn-around season after the problems of previous years. In all happens too at a time when the club has undertaken a massive development programme with a second playing field, an Astroturf pitch and walk-way. The problem now will be to maintain the momentum next year to build on the success.

Of course the year doesn’t end yet for these Boherlahan teams both of whom enter Munster competitions. This is definitely bonus territory but nobody seems anxious to let go of the good times.

Just a parting word on the junior hurling. A correspondent during the week took issue with my comments on the junior ‘A’ roll of honour. Did I not understand that when you win junior ‘A’ you go up to intermediate and therefore no club can dominate the grade? Well, does my anonymous critic not understand that the junior ‘A’ grade is over one hundred years old and for the first seventy of those years there was no intermediate grade and there was no automatic promotion? As supporting evidence could I point out that Boherlahan won three county junior titles in a row in the thirties with mostly the same team and the same captain, Philly Heffernan. It’s in that context that it’s surprising no club has won more than five junior titles.

It is a peculiar grade in ways. For some clubs it’s their first team and therefore you would expect them to be strong. For others it’s a second batch, often supplemented by past or present seniors. That can have a distorting effect where a team is strong early on in the season and then loses players to the seniors. Holycross was a great example of this in 2018. Mind you they were still very strong in the Mid final – probably the strongest team we met all year. Anyway all of these factors make it a difficult grade to navigate. Just how difficult is always debatable.

Speaking of debate there’s an item in this week’s ‘Nationalist’ that’s sure to prompt lively discussion among followers of the ‘caman’. It’s a list of the 25 most influential Tipperary hurlers over the past 30 years. The number of players and the span of years may seem arbitrary but that was the task we were given on the selection committee.

It’s one of those subjective exercises where opinions will vary and the final choices are usually a compromise. As well as selecting the 25 individuals we also had to list them in order of merit.  A similar selection was made in Kilkenny some time ago with D.J. Carey getting the nod ahead of Henry Shefflin for the number one spot. In our case Nicky English tops the pile ahead of Declan Ryan, Eoin Kelly and Brendan Cummins.

It will be interesting to see the reaction to the selection. One presumes there were will be much disagreement.

 

 

 

 

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