Westside column – April 14th 2012

As the county side intensifies its build up for the league semi-final the clubs took centre stage last weekend with the four divisional championships kicking off. Results in all four regions were predictable enough, I’d suggest, with no major faller at the first hurdle.

The weekend, however, wasn’t without its controversies. In the West Cappawhite declared inability to field against Clonoulty once their request for a postponement was denied. And the latest twist in the relegation saga saw yet another postponement as Ballybacon were this time either unable or unwilling to play. In response the County CCC has awarded the game to Borrisokane and relegated the South side.
The county side spent last week in camp – all happy campers I hope – down at Fota Island as they gear up for that league semi on Sunday week. These training-bonding sessions have become part of the itinerary of most county teams nowadays though financial pressures mean that foreign camps are mostly out of bounds. So instead of Spain it was Cork where I hope the locals weren’t spying ahead of the game.
Once home the players were on duty for their clubs as the domestic championship kick-started with a full round of matches in all divisions. I should perhaps rename the column ‘Midside’ for this week because I stayed in the adopted division. I had intended getting in the Clonoulty\Cappawhite fixture on Monday evening but those best laid plans were scuppered by Cappa’s inability to put out a team. Officially I’m told they’ve conceded a walk-over, though they may challenge that version.

These things change over time but at the moment there’s no doubt the Mid division tops the hurling pile in Tipperary. They’ve three of the main county contenders in Drom, Sars and Loughmore whereas the other divisions struggle to have one. Clonoulty from the West certainly deserve to be in the county mix and I suppose you can never dismiss Toomevara. Otherwise, at a push you might make a case for Mullinahone and Nenagh as outside contenders based on past record but that’s stretching it, unless somebody new comes out of the woodwork this year, which I doubt.
The clash of Loughmore and Sarsfields was the most eye-catching fixture on the Mid’s schedule at the weekend and together with the Drom\Moycarkey game drew a modest following to Templemore on Sunday. A Lar-less Sars’ wrapped it up conclusively at the end after a close examination by Loughmore in a game that only came to life in the final quarter.
There was only two in it at the end of the first half. Sars’ had a lot of possession but were playing ping-pong hurling tossing the ball around to each other but unwilling to take route one to goal. David Kennedy was hurling a lot of ball from wing back at this stage for Sarsfields and Michael O’Brien skipped away from his marker for two points but otherwise there was no great penetration in the Thurles attack. At the other end the dancing feet of Liam McGrath took him around his marker for a fine goal while John McGrath, Noel’s brother, popped a pair of points to keep Loughmore well in the hunt. At 1-5 to 0-10 it was nicely poised at half time.
Eventually Sarsfields got away from Loughmore in the second half through an Aidan McCormack goal. It might have petered out at this stage but credit to Loughmore they made a real battle of it. The tempo – and temperature – rose as Noel McGrath goaled a close in free and the lead shrank back to a single point. However, in the climactic moment it was Sarsfields who found the necessary response. Denis Maher planted their second goal and they eventually eased home by six points which made it look easier than it had been.

There’s no doubt Sarsfields will be strong contenders to regain the title again this year even without Lar. Padraic Maher and Michael Cahill are the twin-engines that drive the defence. Maher diced with danger at one stage in the second half when he reacted furiously to a free against him by slamming the ball against the ground and in the general direction of the referee. He escaped with a yellow. I liked their midfield pair of Michael Gleeson and Stephen Lillis, two smooth operators. Their attack is a bit more variable. Denis Maher hit 1-2 from play and an injury-free run by him this year would be a major plus for the team. Pa Bourke’s contribution was mostly confined to frees.
Loughmore too are well stocked with talent though perhaps lacking the sturdiness of former sides. David Kennedy is now being deployed as a forward with Eddie Connolly manning the number six. I thought Liam Treacy contributed well at midfield but their attack looks a little boyish at the moment. Still they’ll be contenders for both divisional and county honours.

The opening game at Templemore was perhaps tighter than might have been expected, due mainly to a gusty display from Moycarkey who eventually went under by four to Drom. The big story here was the return by Seamus Callanan after his long lay-off. He suffered a setback recently on his return to hurling action with a hamstring problem but managed to play the full game on Sunday. He showed plenty of rustiness on his return and obviously needs a lot of match practice to get up to speed for the county.
Drom led by four at the break, David Collins whipping in a fine goal for the bulk of that margin. Kieran Morris from frees was Moycarkey’s main point scorer. It remained tight enough in the second half, though Drom always looked the more likely winners. The reigning county champs were without Seamus Butler and James Woodlock, the latter I understand injuring his back in a horse-riding accident. That mishap is bad timing, coming just as he was enjoying possibly his best spell with the county team.
Overall Moycarkey are in a group of death here beside the big three so T.J. Connolly will have a tough job trying to avoid ending bottom of the pile.

The other group in the Mid is going to be a tight-run affair and it certainly produced the most gripping game of the weekend in the clash of J.K. Bracken’s and Holycross on Saturday afternoon. It was an amazing game really because on first half viewing you’d have bet your house on the Templemore side but by the end you’d have been homeless.
To begin with Bracken’s were moving sweetly. Shane Scully planted two rapid-fire goals for them and with Shane Bourke tossing over points they were moving with oily smoothness. A Dara Duggan goal kept Holycross in touch early on and then another from Aidan Stakelum near half time left them within touching distance. However, on the run of play one felt Holycross were merely hanging on whereas Bracken’s seemed to have more in attack especially.
Fast forward then to the second half and an entirely different pattern emerged. Through collective doggedness and persistence rather than individual flair Holycross wore their opponents down. We went through a spell where Bracken’s couldn’t win a ball in attack, the twin strike force of Bourke and Scully suddenly silent. The game’s drift had altered dramatically.
Then at the height of the battle Holycross were reduced to fourteen when Jacko Doyle was dismissed. He might have walked in the first half for a swipe on Shane Bourke but now he clashed with Kevin Mulryan and collected a second yellow. Yet, the dismissal seemed to be the spur to drive Holycross on and they finished the game on a high. Goals from Aidan Stakelum and Rob Stakelum took them clear and a few late points from Shane Bourke were the best Bracken’s could muster in response. Holycross won by five in the end.

The opening game at the Ragg on Saturday was a low-key affair where Upperchurch outstayed Boherlahan to win by five also. It looked promising for Boherlahan early on when Seamie Leahy rifled in an immediate goal. That gave them the initiative which they held almost until half time. Then the ‘Church got a crucial break just before the interval. In fact the game was nearly five minutes into added time when a James Barry ‘65’ from near the sideline dropped all the way to Boherlahan’s net. It gave the ‘Church a four point interval lead and ultimately it was to prove the most critical score of the day.
Upperchurch have been hit heavily by emigration and are only a shadow of the side that got to a county semi-final in ’09. In James Barry at centre back they had the individual star of the game. He bagged 1-2 from three ‘65s’ but more importantly in the second half he repelled attack after attack by Boherlahan.
An ongoing back injury to Darragh Hickey is a major problem for Boherlahan because they really lack scoring options in attack. He came on in the second half but is clearly restricted by that back ailment and without him on form Boherlahan are very limited in attack; 1-7 will win very few hurling games nowadays.

Meanwhile the latest twist in the relegation tale comes with word from Monday night’s CCC meeting that Borrisokane have been awarded the match and Ballybacon are relegated. This follows last Saturday’s failed attempt to play the game when Ballybacon were unwilling to line out without Brendan Cummins who it seems was unavailable. I wouldn’t even speculate as to whether or not this is the end of the story. It clearly puts the ‘sliotar’ back in Ballybacon’s court now so we await developments.
The issue now will be whether or not Ballybacon have the stomach for more appeals and counter-appeals in the wake of this CCC decision. I think they could quite legitimately claim that Borrisokane refused to play when fixed and yet escaped sanction so why should they be hit with the nuclear option now. Natural justice requires equal treatment for both sides. In one sense they are the major victims of this whole sad saga because they played and felt they won their relegation game fairly. Yet now they look likely to take the hit for what subsequently transpired.
Incidentally I’ve heard quite a far-fetched reason being put forward for not going with my suggestion to drop relegation for one year. The argument goes that if that happened then any team that was beaten by Ballybacon or Borrisokane in this year’s senior championship could object on the basis that their opponents should be playing intermediate. How you’d support that objection when no relegation final was played is quite another matter.
Anyway it’s a nonsense argument. A properly ratified decision by the County Board, even if that meant holding an extraordinary general meeting, would put the decision on a solid legal footing which would prevent any challenge to subsequent results. And wouldn’t a club look quite silly to go challenging a match result on such dubious grounds. Anyway once again we await further developments in this sorry saga.

P.S. An interesting charity game goes on this Thursday evening (7pm) at Bansha between the Tipperary senior and intermediate hurling selections. The game is in aid of the Fiona Power fund. Fiona is a Bansha woman who has to travel to Florida for vital medical treatment. It’s a very worthy initiative by the Galtee Rvs. club and deserves support.

P.P.S. Just as I’m wrapping up the column on Monday night comes the sad news of the passing of Tipperary’s All Ireland winning goalie of 1961 and 1962. Donal O’Brien, Knockavilla, had the perfect innings as Tipp goalie: played two All Irelands and won two before emigration took him to America where he spent most of the remainder of his life. His passing is another break in the link with Tipperary’s golden era. Our sympathies to the bereaved.

Leave a Reply