Westside column – November 26th 2011

The West has a new intermediate hurling combination after Rockwell Rovers pulled off a famous win over Thurles Sarsfields in a thrilling county junior decider at Golden on Sunday. An early Christmas cracker as the Rovers from New Inn carved out a little niche of history for the club with a first ever adult hurling title. Down five at half time they turned the tie on its head with a rousing second half that eventually saw them win by four. These are happy hurling days indeed around New Inn and Knockgraffon.
On a week when their local minor football hero, T.J. Ryan, was honoured by Munster Council, it was hurling that delivered the club one of its richest prizes ever. Back in the mid-fifties the parish won a county juvenile hurling title but that was a stand-alone item ever since. One recalls seeing the photograph of that 1955 team with Fr. James Meehan there in the back row. Now it has an adult companion, one I suspect will be feted for some time. On a dull but dry day Rockwell did the business the hard way. They looked vulnerable in the first half and were five down at the break. What many didn’t realise at that stage was that Sarsfields were reduced to fourteen after full forward, Conor Moloney, was sent off. It happened about midway through the half over to the right of the Mantlehill goal. I’ve no idea what happened and I’m not alone in that regard.
Anyway the sending off didn’t seem to bother Sarsfields at that juncture. In fact they won the second quarter handsomely enough to take a five-point lead to the dressing rooms at half time, 0-11 to 0-6. Sars’ seemed the slicker side at that stage, getting their scores handier than the West side, though Rockwell’s Liam Lonergan did surge up field for the most stirring flag of the lot. This game, though, was surely won in the first five minutes of the second half when Rovers stormed the ‘Blues’ and effectively set the tone for the remainder of the action. In winter hurling a five point lead is substantial so striking early was crucial for Rockwell on the turnaround. Crucial also was the fact that they worked the only goal of the game, a vital strike in this contest. It came mere seconds into the second half when Michael Fahy beat goalie, Myles Fitzgerald, at the second attempt, his first attempt being hooked.
That was the breakthrough score which sent the adrenaline pumping through Rockwell veins. Paul Halley followed up with an immediate point and when Alan Moloney landed a free some minutes later the sides were level. Sars’ had been blitzed and in hindsight the tide had turned for the West team. An Alan Moloney point gave the West lads the lead for the first time six minutes into the second half. It was an impetus Rovers never lost. Still there was a lot of time yet to be played and plenty of thrills for the followers to enjoy. Okay critics will say it was junior in standard but give me a hip-to-hip collision any day where there’s no pulling back, plenty of honest endeavour, an issue that stays open to the end and what more could you ask for?
Briefly David O’Dwyer steadied matters for Sarsfields with a pointed free but there was no stopping Rockwell now. The Sars’ huffed and puffed but they were up against an unyielding defence with numerical advantage so that it was going to take something special to work a breakthrough. A few dangerous goalmouth scrambles saw Thurles come close to a major strike but each time it was a Rockwell player who eventually came out of the ruck, ball in hand lifting the siege.
The clinching scores for Rockwell were special too. Barry Shortall took them two-up, Paul Halley made it three with a giant one from outfield and then Stephen Boland had the margin at a secure four. Sarsfields threatened a rally when Jim Mackey won a close in free but his shot lifted over the bar instead of under. The last word came from Rockwell and another Paul Halley special from outfield deep into added time. A second yellow for midfielder, Eoin Byrne, near the end mattered not to the game – his first yellow seemed ridiculously harsh in the first half. History was made, Rockwell had won the day and the celebrations were about to start.
It’s a famous one that will long be recalled. That second half display was special, a truly ensemble effort where all shoulders were to the wheel for the winning push. The defence will take major credit for resisting Sarsfields’ in that second half – two pointed frees was all the Thurles side could muster in that spell. In front of the safe-handling Michael O’Donnell in goal clearances came from all quarters but the likes of Eoin Shine, Pat Halley and substitute, Kevin Heaney, were especially busy. Elsewhere Alan Moloney was a key figure and late replacement, Paul Halley, made a memorable contribution with three precious points.
Overall an unforgettable day for the club. The parish tradition may be predominantly football orientated but they’ve certainly embraced the greatest game too in recent years, as evidenced by the building of that hurling wall. They’re progressive and a win like this will surely strengthen the resolve of all involved. Given Cashel’s ongoing relegation issues I’m sure there’ll be plenty of neighbourly ribbing from the New Inn side at the possibility of facing the King Cormacs next year in the intermediate grade. In the meantime Rovers must put the champagne on hold because they’ve a visit to Charleville next Sunday for the Munster series.
I’ve been wading through Tommy Barrett’s book, ‘The Runai’, during the past week. In truth I came to the book with great expectations. Tommy spent close to four decades as county secretary and this pivotal position in the administration of the Association in the county left him ideally placed to reflect and comment on so many aspects of the GAA world. Besides, as secretary Tommy was never shy about commenting on matters so one expected some straight talking in this memoir.
Imagine my disappointment then on reading a book that is really a soft-touch trip down memory lane where anything that might even hint at controversy is air-brushed out of existence. This simply doesn’t read like Tommy Barrett. Instead of incisive, forthright reflections on fifty years of memories you get a type of happy-clappy, sanitised skim through events. The result is, I’m sorry to say, a book that supplies neither enlightenment nor enlivenment during these long winter nights.
For me the most interesting part of the book is the opening section dealing with his background and early life. His story begins in River Street, Killenaule, in 1924 and the account of his republican background is entertaining. I like the section dealing with ‘BloodySunday’ and the personal involvement of his family in that tragic event. His uncle, Willie, played with Tipperary that fateful day and his parents were apparently present at the game. He tells the story of them being stopped by the ‘Black and Tans’ on their way home. His father was on the run and travelling under an assumed name. His mother apparently later told the story of arriving home and putting her hand into her pocket to find a revolver. It seems his father had placed the revolver there in case he was searched by the ‘Tans’.
I suspect for many readers that section dealing with his family and their political involvement will prove to be the most informative part of the book. Tommy’s staunch republican views would be well known and this section certainly explains their background genesis. He tells also of a childhood memory of his father being badly beaten up by the ‘Blue Shirts’ in Killenaule. When it comes to his thirty seven years as county secretary, however, I’m afraid the narrative loses appeal for me. A flick through the years and fleeting references to games won and lost is not what would draw one to this type of book. Perspective is everything and a memoir surely offers one the chance to reflect with the benefit of hindsight on significant events from the past. Sadly there’s very little retrospective reflection of any interest here. It’s all very lightweight and almost cursory in places.
As a secretary there’s no denying that Tommy was highly efficient and did the job to a very high standard for decades. Otherwise he wouldn’t have survived so long in the post. However, he was also a contentious character who crossed swords with many people during that time. His clash with the late Mick Frawley, for example, made for very difficult times for the Board in the early eighties when the Emly man was chairman. Yet, with selective amnesia, that entire affair is ignored. It’s not that one expected a re-run of old squabbles, especially since Mick Frawley is sadly no longer with us. But one would expect some comment on the affair with perhaps a more mellow reflection on the possible rights or wrongs form his present vantage.
Likewise one might have expected a more interesting angle on the ups and downs of Tipperary over the decades. Tommy became secretary in 1963 with the sudden retirement of Pat Stakelum (even here he fails to mention that he defeated the legendary Tony Brennan for the job). He came in at a time when Tipperary was in the middle of its golden hurling era. He then witnessed the decline of Tipperary hurling and that bleak, famine time of the seventies and early eighties, followed by the renaissance under ‘Babs’ and the various fluctuations since them. It would have been interesting to hear his perspective on the swings and roundabouts over the years but you get very little.
For whatever reason I suspect Tommy went out of his way in this book to avoid anything that might be contentious. Unfortunately the result is quite an insipid narrative, one that certainly doesn’t engage me. On odd occasions you get a hint of the real Tommy, such as when he bemoans the removal of the infamous ‘ban’ in 1971. I might trenchantly disagree with him on that issue but I’d still respect his views and would be interested in the rationale he’d employ to support such an opinion. Sadly we get very little of this throughout the book.
Finally to end on a positive note of sorts. The proceeds from the sale of the book go to North Tipperary Hospice, a very worthy cause. For that reason alone it deserves support – just don’t expect to be enthralled by what you read.

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