WESTSIDE COLUMN JUNE 16 2012

Where the U21s have gone let’s hope the seniors can follow. As the Munster semi-final gets closer the twenty-ones provided a timely boost midweek with a smashing win by the Lee. A late show by the Tipperary visitors culminated in Sean Curran’s sweetest of sweet winners. Honesty of effort and dogged persistence were the hallmarks of Ken Hogan’s team as they advanced to a provincial semi-final date with Limerick.
Elsewhere the clubs too were busy last weekend. The Mid is down to semi-final stage after a pair of ‘quarters’ saw Sarsfields and Loughmore get through comfortably in the end. There was action too in the North – and in the South where there was controversy between Ballingarry and Killenaule.
There’s no doubt the U21s deserve headline rating this week after that remarkable win over a fancied Cork. Coming from four-down so late in the hour showed commendable nerve. It left the locals bemused. A game that seemed firmly within their grasp had somehow been thieved by Tipp’s late rally.
Mind you I considered it no more than payback for 1997. Funny how some of these events stick in the memory more than others? ’97 was a year of many regrets for Tipperary but few were as galling as the U21 Munster final. Played at Semple Stadium, we led Cork by two into added time before a certain Timmy McCarthy careered through our defence to tap home a stunning winner against Justin Cottrell. Cork went on to claim the All Ireland title, which only served to deepen our regrets.
As they say, it aint over until the fat lady sings, and the history of hurling is littered with such late dramatics. Winning goals can be particularly spectacular in this regard but Tipperary last Wednesday did it a more piecemeal way, point-by-point coming with a late run that was timed to perfection. John O’Dwyer, David Collins, Niall O’Meara and Sean Curran were central to the late flow of flags that tended to belie the game’s previous pattern.
It was a particularly deflating one for Cork who are beginning to worry about their ongoing lack of underage success. After that 1997 win they retained the title in ’98 and in the process humbled Tipperary at Pairc Ui Chaoimh in the Munster final. Amazingly though it has been their last All Ireland success in the grade; since then they’ve endured fourteen barren years at this level. At minor level the scene is only marginally better; their last U18 win came in 2001. Inevitably such valley periods tend to have consequences at senior.
Anyway that’s for Cork to worry about. In truth I suspect not too many Tipperary fans expected their team to triumph on Wednesday last. Even without exam-tied Darren Sweetnam Cork still seemed better stocked with senior personnel such as Lehane and Coughlan. Besides Pairc Ui Chaoimh is never an easy hunting ground for Tipperary teams as the record amply illustrates. Tipp travelled in hope then rather that expectation.
Yet on a day of squelchy underfoot conditions the visitors refused to play to expectations. Ken Hogan can be justly proud of the honest effort his side put in working and grafting even when Cork seemed to have the game under control. From the earliest phase we were always chasing the contest but, tellingly, kept up the chase.
The case of Sean Curran illustrates the prevailing Tipperary mood. Despite being outplayed for long spells by the outstanding Christopher Joyce, Curran refused to be cowed. He stuck to the task and made a telling two-point contribution when the game was being decided in the final quarter. David Collins also kept his best hurling until that crucial spell and the selectors too can take credit for the second half adjustments which strengthened the side. Brian Stapleton’s move to centre back worked well after Denis Maher had struggled in the role and the cumulative effect of all these aspects drove Tipperary forward in those final moments.
Then there was the man-of-the-match input from John O’Dwyer. A survivor from our last All Ireland success in the grade in 2010 the Killenaule man was our chief scorer off play and frees. Beside him Liam McGrath too showed his potential especially in that second half. At the other end of the field you had an outstanding input by Stephen Maher at corner back. These were the leading lights though I’m sure Ken Hogan and colleagues would rightly focus more on the ensemble team effort rather than individual inputs.
However you wish to praise it, individually or collectively, it was a commendable outcome from a side that carried low expectations in advance. They’ll probably be outsiders again in the semi-final where Limerick will be well-stocked with senior talent. That won’t be until July 18 by which time we’ll know a little more about the Shannonsiders from their qualifier games. Anyway it’s always great to have Cork ‘bet’ so well done to all concerned.
On the club front the Mid division is ahead of the posse with semi-finals in place following a pair of ‘quarters’ last Saturday at Holycross. The quarter-final results read like routine, even facile wins for Loughmore and Sarsfields but the end figures don’t tell the entire story from either game.
In fact the opening game at Holycross was a really lively affair where Upperchurch pushed Loughmore all the way before fading out in the final minutes. The expectation here was that Loughmore would have a relatively stress-free outing but it didn’t quite pan out that way. The ‘Church were certainly ‘up’ for the battle, full of legitimate fight as they took on their opponents from the off.
The underdogs actually led the way for much of the first half before Liam McGrath kicked a goal for Loughmore near half time – yes he can play football too. It gave them a two point lead at the interval and on the balance of play they were probably lucky to be ahead. It stayed tight for much of the second half too before Loughmore’s second goal eased the tension as the winners went on to wrap it up comfortably by the end.
I’d give the ‘Church a lot of credit for a really spirited effort here, certainly far superior to what I saw from them in some earlier games. They weren’t helped by the fact that James Barry was limited by injury and played in the forwards. Previously he’s been the fulcrum of their defence but this time they had to readjust with Colm Ryan falling back. Barry was impeccable from frees landing ten points from ‘dead’ ball situations but they certainly missed his expansive hurling at the back. Upperchurch won’t be an easy draw now in the county qualifiers.
For Loughmore it was comfortable in the end but tough for long spells. I suppose once they didn’t leak a goal to Upperchurch they were always likely to edge ahead in the second half. They’ve a useful side and will certainly be rated in the top handful of teams with county potential. Liam McGrath ended top scorer on 1-10, 0-6 from frees. He’s definitely the brightest prospect to emerge from the club since cousin Noel. He has a lot of the same silky skills as well as a really fine temperament. One second half point was a rare delight: as others waited to contest a dropping ball one little right-handed flick brought it down into his left fist before fading away from his marker to land another point. Poetry in motion as they say, whoever they are.
Noel McGrath chipped in with four points and his brother John added a pair also. I liked the tearaway energy of Cian Hennessy too and when you look back in defence you have Eddie Connolly at centre and the strong Derek Bourke at full. They’ll have a say in the championship alright.
The second game had an even more decisive outcome at the end and I felt didn’t have the edge of the opener. Still Boherlahan kept close to Sarsfields for about three-quarters of the trip. There was only three between them at half time and even when Michael O’Brien had a goal for Sars early in the second half Boherlahan responded with a like score and it remained a three or four point game until the final quarter. In the end, however, Sarsfields got a run of scores that really put the tie to bed. Michael O’Brien had a second goal and then Lar Corbett entered the fray with another trademark goal, which really buried the issue.
A fourteen point gap at the end did scant justice to Boherlahan’s earlier efforts but that’s how these games often pan out where the underdog puts up a stubborn resistance early on but just can’t sustain the attempt.
On paper Sarsfields look impressive though I’ve been notably unimpressed with their on-field form so far this season. Individual talent is all very well but unless it gels together as a team unit the end product is usually less than the sum of parts. Perhaps they’ll develop momentum as the season unfolds but so far I don’t think they’re justifying the favourites tag.
It was good to see Lar Corbett finally back in championship action. He looked fit and sharp, taking his goal chance with trademark precision. I suspect he’ll see action at some stage against Cork.
I assume the Mid will proceed with its semi-final draw this week. Drom and Brackens will be kept apart with Sars and Loughmore drawn to face them. Drawing Bracken’s will be seen as the easier option because Drom to me have looked the form team in the Mid this season.
Up North they still have to play quarter-finals where Templederry will line up against Borrisoleigh and Roscrea will face Portroe. Nenagh and Toomevara are safely in the semis.
In Michael O’Meara’s time one always felt well informed about the South but at the moment things are something of a mystery in that region. I went to Fethard on Friday evening to see Ballingarry and Killenaule in action but saw no action at all. Then when the teams did eventually line up on Saturday it seems there was a little too much action for the referee’s liking as he apparently dismissed a quartet of the combatants. Disappointing to hear reports of an official being accosted too. Anyway I’m sure we’ll be told all this is all media exaggeration. In the hurling Ballingarry won by ten points and Mullinahone were similarly comfortable against Davins.
For the next few weeks most club action goes on hold as the focus shifts to the Munster semi-final. Matter for next week.

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