Westside column – December 24th 2012

The U21 final is set to compete with the wren boys. Loughmore needed extra time to dispatch Ballingarry in the second of the semis at Boherlahan last weekend. That result sets up a novel final on St. Stephen’s Day at Nenagh where both Burgess and Loughmore will be seeking a first in the grade. The Mid deserve advance favouritism, though the North come with strong credentials too. Elsewhere the relegation can has been kicked down the road once again – all the way to February 4 in fact following Ballybacon’s request for time to prepare for a rematch with Cashel K.C.

The U21 grade rarely disappoints. A week after Burgess held out against Clonoulty it was the turn of Mid and South to convene at Boherlahan and to their credit Ballingarry and Loughmore turned in quite a competitive hour and twenty minutes before a resolution was reached. All uncertainty vanished in the added time as the Mid champs finally nailed down the issue with a sweet and bubbly seven-up margin over a fourteen-man opposition.
Quite a vigorous contest kept the attendance engaged on a crisp afternoon. Plenty of drama too as Ballingarry struck two late goals to send the tie to extra time and give patrons full value for their admission price. A contest that seemed to be leaning Loughmore’s way for most of the trip ended in a welter of excitement before the extra time saw normal service resumed as Noel McGrath’s team marched on.
On paper Loughmore looked the more formidable outfit, led by team captain, Noel McGrath, at midfield and supplemented by several other members of the McGrath clan. However – and to their credit – Ballingarry came with earnest intentions too, so the contest soon developed into a gripping affair. Loughmore got hit early by a Ballingarry goal when Adrian Cleere planted a ‘penalty’ after Ian Ivors was unfairly impeded.
The bulk of first half evidence, though, favoured Loughmore. They were moving with more menace in attack, John McGrath showing a real pacey turn of foot. One such run set up Eamonn Connolly for the point of the half. Liam McGrath was hitting the frees with mixed effect and Noel McGrath landed one excellent point from out on the right sideline. Yes, it was the McGrath show alright, though a major negative was the growing list of wides. They hit nine in the first half against Ballingarry’s two and yet led by three at the break.

Those wides plus the Ballingarry goal kept the game ‘alive’ in the first half but the interval pep talk seemed to inject renewed vigour into Ballingarry for the resumption. John McGrath had the opening point of the second half but then Ballingarry hit four on the run to tie it all up approaching the three-quarter stage. Adrian Cleere from play and frees and Jack Fennelly’s second point of the afternoon left the game well poised for a rousing final quarter.
And was it rousing? First, Loughmore took a firm grip on events beginning with their goal when a Liam McGrath effort was saved before Eamonn Connolly kicked home the rebound. Then there followed a spread of Loughmore scorers to take them five-up entering the final minutes. A saved ‘penalty’ from Adrian Cleere seemed an omen of the day’s fate.
But wait! There was plenty of drama still to unfold. Ballingarry had to drive for goal now and when an Adrian Cleere effort was saved Ciaran Shelly was on hand to whip home the rebound. Renewed excitement now with the lead back to just two and about a minute to play. Loughmore responded with an answering point from Cian Hennessy to leave the margin at a safer three. It would prove the most precious score of the day because in the next Ballingarry attack Michael Ivors had the ball in Loughmore’s net once more. Amazingly it was level pegging, an outcome the referee immediately embraced to send the tie to added time with the South side rejuvenated by that late surge and the Mid no doubt deflated.
In the end, however, there was to be no shock outcome. Adrian Cleere and Noel McGrath swapped points on resuming but then Loughmore hit the push button and the game was over. The effort to get to this stage seemed to have zapped Ballingarry energy and it was Loughmore who drove on decisively. Cian Hennessy, Liam Treacy, Liam McGrath (two) and John McGrath all hit points to take the lead back out to five and this time there was to be no late dramatics by Ballingarry, who by now had lost Darragh Ivors to a second yellow card. In the end Loughmore took it by seven, decisive and deserving.
You certainly couldn’t fault Ballingarry for a very honest effort throughout, though in the end Loughmore had more hurling on board, which showed especially at the attacking end. Mind you they’ll probably worry about the concession of those critical goals in a defence that has to function without John Meagher.

The final now has novelty with both camps seeking a breakthrough win. Loughmore won a ‘B’ title in the nineties but have never held the Tony Brennan Cup. That will surprise people because we tend to list Loughmore among the top hurling clubs of recent decades. They’re forever prominent, it seems, though such profile isn’t matched by their title-haul.
I think they’ll be fancied to win a first here, though Burgess have certainly defied the odds up to this point, taking out Nenagh and Clonoulty on their way to the decider. The North champs are a compact outfit, gritty and competitive in their approach as they showed in the semi-final. Centre forward, Stephen Murray, was the individual star that day and I’m sure Loughmore will have noted the name in advance. He won the ‘Nenagh Guardian’ player of the week award for his efforts against Clonoulty.
The absence of John Meagher from the Loughmore side because of health issues is a major blow to the team. Still, on semi-final evidence perhaps the Mid champs deserve slight favouritism to finally land an elusive U21 title.

The relegation controversy has been parked until February following a Ballybacon request for time to prepare for their re-fixed game against Cashel K.C. It will be remembered that when the game was fixed by CCC the South club felt unable to field and subsequently requested time to prepare for the game. Sensibly that time request has resulted in the game being deferred until the start of the new season in February.
It remains to be seen if this will finally resolve the issue. As the controversy dragged on it became patently obvious that there would be no game before Christmas so perhaps February offers an escape route from the mess. We’ll see. At least teams will have the incentive to resume training early though I’m not sure February will see them in the best of nick. Incidentally I still think the best outcome was to abandon relegation for 2011 and I don’t buy into the argument that it would set a dangerous precedent. The circumstances of this case were so unique that it was unlikely to offer a precedent for anything.

County secretary, Tim Floyd, deals with the saga in his convention report, just as you’d expect he would. I wonder how his comments will be received in Cashel though. On the one hand there’s an acceptance that the regulations were on Cashel’s side (pity he didn’t impress that on his board colleagues along the way) but then comes the barb from Tim with the suggestion that the public utterances of the King Cormacs’ club were somewhat at variance with the private views of members and players. I wonder how that plays out at the Cashel convention.
Speaking of Tim Floyd leads on nicely to a few brief comments on his convention report generally, which contains a very thorough account of the year’s activities. Most of the secretary’s report records in considerable detail (too much detail perhaps?) all the year’s activities. Some of us prefer to by-pass the routine stuff and get to the juicy bits that may find their way into headlines.
I note Tim dusts off an old committee report from 1998, which proposed the breakup of the divisions in favour of a two-way split similar to our county councils. The new divisions would be called Ormond and Slievenamon. Yours truly is named as one of the committee members so there’s no hiding from this one. Thanks Tim! I’m a little hazy on the details of that committee but I think it put forward a few options rather than favouring any individual one. The two-division idea was certainly heavily defeated at the time and I suspect it would fare no better today.

On finance the county secretary notes a thirty-five percent drop in gate receipts since 2009 and rings the alarm bells about drastic measures being needed if the Board is to remain viable. It’s interesting to note that Kilkenny made a two-hundred grand profit last year while Waterford recorded a loss of similar proportion. There’s no doubt in the present economic climate the GAA will suffer like everyone else so appropriate measures will be needed. There’s a suggestion that inter-county team expenses need to be examined and presumably curtailed. Interestingly the secretary questions the viability of staging national football league games in Semple Stadium where attendances are so paltry that losses are incurred. This goes contrary to John Evans’ published views recently. In this case I’m with the county secretary who has common sense on his side. Overall it’s an incredibly detailed report, one that will be of major assistance to future historians.

Just as I’m coming to the end of the column there’s word from convention of two ballots. Michael Bourke of Upperchurch is the new vice-chairman, holding off the challenge of Fethard’s Michael McCormack quite comfortably. It wasn’t a good night for the Fethard man who also lost the battle for the position of county development officer, this time coming a distant second to Jimmy Minogue, Nenagh. Other details from convention, I’m afraid, you’ll have to read elsewhere.
Finally could I wish the season’s best to readers of this column. Here’s hoping for health, happiness and better hurling outcomes in 2012.

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