2005 will be a year that remains dear to every Thurles Sarsfields supporter for many years to come. For anyone around the age of thirty-five and under, all that lived in the memory were painful defeats and a nagging feeling that our day would never come. For the older generation accustomed to unending success, the dearth of victories in recent years was perplexing. And who could blame them? For those generations were reared on unending success. The club's senior team that had amassed a staggering twenty-eight titles by 1974 went progressively into a downward spiral. If the senior team remained competitive in the years preceding 2005, reaching numerous finals, winning some, losing others, the quest for senior county honours, which seemed tantalisingly close on four County Final days, proved to be as far away as ever with those heartbreaking losses. The team of 2005 carried the burden of this recent disappointing legacy onto the pitch and there was nowhere to hide.
It felt like the team turned a corner in the drawn Mid Final. Very much depleted through an injured Gary Mernagh and Larry Corbett, talisman Johnny Enright forced to withdraw through injury and furthermore reduced to fourteen men from the seemingly harsh red carding of 'Redser', the team showed immense resolve in the last fifteen minutes to pull out a very unlikely draw on a hot day in Holycross. Pat Lawlor led the way by tacking on vital frees as well as points from play and, more crucially, securing the penalty that Paddy McCormack buried to earn the draw. The re-jigged backline and midfield showed the tenacity and competitiveness that had been lacking up to the forty-fifth minute. From that day onwards, the Thurles men never looked back.
Fast forward to a cold and overcast October day in Semple Stadium, the Blues finally sealed the deal. When referee Brian White blew his whistle to end the game, he set in motion a blue stampede, as thousands hared across Tom Semple's manicured field to celebrate with the team. Those Sars players who chose to stand still were swept away in the ensuing stampede. Redser, who took bravery one step further by falling to his knees, was soon engulfed in the wave of euphoria. As Keith Duggan memorably put it in the following day’s Irish Times, “He (Redser) fell to his knees and looked to the heavens as all of Thurles stampeded towards him”
is no doubt that Sarsfields had to do it the hard way in 2005.
Boherlahan, Loughmore and Drom(after a replay) had to be overcome to win
the Mid title. Then in the County series they faced Toomevara,
Loughmore (again) and Drom (yet again!) to land the coveted County
honours. It was as testing an ordeal as is possible. Every game, bar the
Toomevara game, turned out to be a local derby of intense rivalry.
Toomevara, so long a huge stumbling block, had become a fierce rival
down the years and the benchmark by which any Sarsfields team would wish
to measure themselves by. This was no soft title as beating teams a
second time requires a mental strength. Overcoming Toomevara required
huge resolve, particularly after the terrible opening Sars endured.
The Blues began their march to the County title on the 12th of June and ended it on the 16th of October. In that period of just over four months, Sarsfields played six games, won five, drew one and lost none, scoring 8-130, conceding 7-103. The aggregate points difference of 30+ suggests a smooth passage which was never the case.
Dualla, Mid Quarter-Final, 12th June 2005.
Final Score: Sars 2-17 Boherlahan 1-13
The path to success began with a Mid quarter-final against Boherlahan on a warm Holycross day. Sars, under new management for 2005 in the form of Knockainey native Ger Cunningham (see photo below) along with selectors Tommy Maher and Ger Corbett, set to work on bringing the Dan Breen Cup back to the Cradle town. In front of a modest crowd, Sars unveiled a new style of play. Many who had watched Ger Cunningham’s progress carefully would instantly recognise it, notably the short pass with the hurley, the short hand-pass and puc-out and general support play. The spare man in midfield always made himself available as the Blues looked to draw in the opposition and lay off the ball to the spare man.
This strategy soon paid off. Sars raced into a lead, with the aerial
fetching and point-taking of new captain Redser causing problems for the
Boherlahan defence. by half-time he had 1-3. His impressive goal came
from a move in which he plucked the ball above a ruck of players,
flat-footing them with a dummy and drilled it to the back of the net.
Sars were seven up at the break and seemingly cruising.
Boherlahan, who were always going to stage a comeback, especially in the Mid Championship, stormed into the game in the second half with former Tipp minor Darragh Hickey leading the way. The deficit was cut to three points at one stage. The new style of play which requires you to hold your nerve, due to the risk involved in so much intricate passing, seemed to breakdown under the pressure as Sars over-elaborated. The team settled however, and regained composure, thanks largely to the Enright brothers.
The inspiring goal that Stephen Lillis scored characterised what the team was endeavouring to do. The move began on the Sars own '21 and was hand-passed five times before Lillis rattled the net with an unstoppable shot from inside the Boherlahan 21'. What What the stylists amongst the older generations of Blues made of a wingback scoring goals in the opposition’s '21 it is a moot point, but either way it proved effective. With Lillis’ goal, Sars pulled away and won comfortably in the end by seven points. Given that Larry Corbett and Ruth were missing and a few others struggling with injuries, it was, all in all, a solid start to the campaign.
Mid Semi-Final, 10th July 2005.
Final Score: Sars 0-23 Loughmore 1-18
On the hottest day of the year in a packed Boherlahan venue, Sars renewed rivalry with old foes Loughmore-Castleiney from out the Templemore Road. Between them they had divided up every Mid title since Holycross-Ballycahill last won it out in 1999. This game felt as good as a Mid-Final and the teams served up a cracker.
Sars began the game minus Redser, who had injured his hand training with the Tipp seniors and Richie Ruth, who was just returning from injury and wasn't match fit. Both entered the game in the final minutes to make telling contributions. Loughmore were themselves minus the services of Evan Sweeney and Noel Morris which levelled the playing-field.
Again the two Enrights performed superbly in this match as did Pat Lawlor. Eddie, who carried on his sparkling form from the Boherlahan match, seemed to be making up for lost time after being out for nearly a year with a very slow healing shoulder injury. He covered every blade of grass, struck over two lovely points and even finding time to square up to old Tipperary colleague Paul Ormonde when he entered the fray.
Micháel Webster, who had dominated Brian
Lohan, Diarmaid O’Sullivan and Shane Kavanagh during the Summer of
2005, continued in much the same form at club level. He bagged 1-3 and
missed the same again due to poor striking and a lack of hurling. David
Kennedy popped over two long-range points from centreback leaving the
game in the balance well into the second half. Redser and Ruth entered
the fray and steadied the ship in the last 10 mins and steer Sars home
in a nail-biting finish. Ruth's sideline cut from thirty-five yards out
on the stand side of the field was the cracking score that won the game.
Many would say this was ‘game of the year’ in the Tipp championship and it’s hard to quibble with that assessment. There wasn’t a mean stroke in the game and some of the score-taking was superb. Sars had a worrying tendency to give away soft frees in this game and some of the short puc outs floundered, which handed easy scores to the men of Loughmore. Still, it was an epic game and a credit to both sides on a day of unbelievably sweltering heat. Next up, Drom-Inch.
Drom-Inch, Mid Final, 7th August 2005.
Final Score: Sars 1-17 Drom 2-14
It was an emotional day for all Sarsfields supporters when a club legend in the shape of 'Rocky' McElgunn passed on to his eternal reward. Another great from the golden era of Tipp hurling, John Doyle threw in the sliotar to start the game. The stalwart of the legendary 'Hell's Kitchen' had to scarper for the safety of the covered stand as the pulling between the middle four, while not foreign to either he, or the teak tough back like 'Rocky' was not for the faint-hearted.
Drom will look back on the year and think that this was the game that got away from them. They were on top in most sectors of the pitch for long spells but got jittery with the finish line in sight and just simply stopped hurling. Maybe with a first Mid title since 1984 in sight, it was understandable. Certainly, Sars didn not need a second invitation to capitalise as Tom King, Wayne Cully, Brendan Carroll, Eddie Enright, Richie Ruth and in particular Pat Lawlor drove the team on in the last fifteen minutes to eke out a draw that was scarcely merited.
With Sars trailing by 6 points with just fifteen minutes left on the clock, victory seemed improbable, all the more so given that they were minus the services of Larry Corbett from the start and Redser (a red card 10 minutes into the second half) who was soon joined on the bench by Johnny Enright as a result of a calf injury. However, despite this adversity, nobody panicked, least of all the seemingly unflappable Ger Cunningham on the sideline who made a couple of key switches, notably Brendan Carroll moving to full-back and Eddie Enright to centre-back, that had an immediate effect. Drom, it must be said, did not help their cause by making poor use of the extra man.Heading into injury time, Sars were a goal down, but as Brian Clough famously said “it only takes a second to score a goal”, and how right he was! Pat Lawlor picked up the loose ball, turned and made a beeline for Damien Young’s goal. A clumsy tackle floored the Childer’s Park man and the referee spread the arms wide to indicate a penalty. Up trotted Paddy McCormack who hit a unstoppable shot to the top of the net. The uncovered stand side exploded with joy. While both teams lived to fight another day, most people leaving the hot and dusty Holycross venue felt the advantage had swung towards the Thurles men.
Mid Final Replay, 21st August 2005.
Final Score: Sars 1-17 Drom 0-13
There was no John Doyle to throw in the sliotar in for this one, just unrelenting rain as Sarsfields regained the Mid title, last won in 2001 and their 39th in all. A much fresher looking Sarsfields team played with a purpose from the start that never allowed Drom to settle. The Blues ran out comfortable seven point winners at the finish.
The problems Sarsfields encountered the first day out in the full-back line were solved with Gary Mernagh slotting into the position and ruling the area authoritatively. He was ably assisted by his two corner men. Sars had many good performers throughout the team, whereas Drom relied heavily on James Woodlock and Seamus Butler (who notched up nine of Drom's thirteen points). If they were to win the replay they needed a few more teammates to give them a dig out.
Redser, after a slow start, again ruled the air. He dominated Paul Ryan who wasn't able for him under the high ball. Johnny Enright was immaculate from dead balls and good in open play with Pat Lawlor and Richie Ruth solid throughout. Larry Corbett made his first appearance of the year as a second half substitute after persistent back and hamstring injuries had ruled the Willowmere Drive man out for much of 2005.
Firstly, he caught a ball over Buckley and turned to hit a shot from a very acute angle, which Young did well to deflect over. He then set up Richie Ruth for the decisive goal. Larry, soon the centre of attention and involved in all the action, got sent off for hitting his Tipp colleague Buckley across the arm after the Drom back was seen to be digging him. Still, the sending-off did not have any major bearing on the outcome as Sarsfields, more skilful and fresher, cruised home on what turned out generally to be a terrible day for hurling.
Toomevara, County Quarter Final, 17th September 2005.
Final Score: Sars 1-20 Toomevara 1-16
Do days come much sweeter than this? By the end of the match there wasn’t a Thurles person sitting down as the Stadium rocked.
The game started like all the others against Toomevara, with Sarsfields finding themselves 1-2 to no score down after barely five minutes on the clock. Willie Ryan playing at corner forward was proving tormentor in chief, but was later withdrawn when Tom King managed to quieten him after a switch of corners. Sars were without the services of Pat Lawlor, who had rescued the team on many occasions in the Mid championship, and county star Larry Corbett. Things did not look good. But as in the drawn Mid final, nobody panicked, least of all Johnny Enright who was immaculate from frees again and kept the scoreboard ticking over. Wayne Cully also played a vital role, scoring some cracking long-range points from play and ending the day with four.
Halftime came with the deficit at a manageable three points. The Blues left Toome out on the pitch for the start of the second half as the players were getting revved-up in the dressing room. Whether the ploy of leaving the opposition out on the field works or not is difficult to determine, in this case it seemed to have the desired effect.
The Sarsfields halfback line, who were excellent throughout, were the backbone of the win. Only Devanney got any bit of joy here with John Lawlor in particular putting on a really excellent display. The game swung in favour of Sars when Cully landed a monster point in the second half to be followed by John O'Brien getting the line for a wild swing on Gary Mernagh. Soon after, Jim Corbett picked and soloed a full sixty yards, the handpass fell to Redser on the edge of the parallelogram and he unleashed an unstoppable shot past Cottrell without the ball touching his hand
Toome refused to lie down and Benny Dunne capped a fine performance with two great points from centre-back to keep matterss tight. Richie Ruth who got a couple of great scores turned provider with a sublime flick to set up Johnny Enright for a point which alone was worth the admission money.
Unbelievably, Bevans had a chance right on full-time when he kicked wide but in truth it would have been very tough on the Thurles lads who had shown magnificent skill and courage throughout the game. At the final whistle, the blue half of the stadium was bouncing with hardly a man, woman or child sitting down! It had been a long time coming and the team were clapped into the Social Centre amid joyous scenes.
There were now three teams standing in the way: Loughmore, Drom and Nenagh. Would the team manage to keep its feet on the ground after the high of such a good win?
County Semi Final, 2nd October 2005.
Final Score: Sars 2-19 Loughmore 2-14
Sars ended up drawing Loughmore for the semi-final and faced the tough task of beating the same team a second time in the same year. It didn’t seem to bother the team at all as Sarsfields played thirty minutes of five-star hurling in the first half. Dominant from the off, the Blues played a controlled, aggressive style of hurling which was clinical in its purpose, barely registered a wide and amassed a remarkable fourteen point lead at the break: 1-15 to 0-4. Loughmore, finding themselves in trouble in every position, were made to look as ordinary a team as you’re likely to see.
Tom King again showed his pedigree by quietening Sweeney and Gary Mernagh was well on top against Webster who had caused most of the problems last time these two met. The management team had their homework done for this game. Instead of standing under the dropping ball, Mernagh gave himself a five yard run up, jumped high in the air and batted down hard on the dropping sliotar. It was a wise move, as contesting the dropping ball hip-to-hip is pointless with a player like Webster. He was moved out to the half-forward where Brendan Carroll was waiting for him with more of the same.
Some of the scores in the opening half were exceptional. Points were struck from all areas of the field. Pat Lawlor scored a superb goal which came after some sublime passing right from the back. Stephen Lillis, showing what a sweet striker of a sliotar he is, scoring a huge point from well inside his own half.
In any amateur sport, it is difficult to maintain the tempo shown by Sarsfields for a full two halves. As Ger Cunningham remarked in an interview with the Sunday Tribune, “the team has a worrying tendency to go to sleep”. If you combine the two, along with the rivalry between Sarsfields and Loughmore, there was always going to be a comeback of sorts on the cards.
And so it came to pass. Loughmore re-jigged things at the break and with the likes of Morris and Brennan leading from the front they clawed back the lead. They were helped by some easy frees and quite a bit of leniency too from the referee for a petulant stamp by Webster on a prostrate Gary Mernagh. Loughmore momentum was checked by a soft Larry Corbett goal but they rallied again. Larry, showing his value to the team, was the pick of the forwards and popped over an insurance point to ensure victory.
When one looks back on the year, the Loughmore comeback wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to the team, particularly after a big win against Toomevara in the quarter-final. The hype building up to the final would have been unbearable if the team had won by a margin greater than fourteen points. It was a case of feet needing to be firmly on the ground against Drom-Inch in the County Final.
Drom-Inch, County Final,
16th October 2005.
Final Score: Sars 1-17 Drom 0-15
Amazingly for the third time in 2005, Sars faced the old enemy from out the Nenagh Road in the County final and even more remarkably, for the third time that year, the team racked up the same scoreline of 1-17 against the Green and White of Drom.
The atmosphere around the town in the lead up to the match was one of nervous expectation. We’d all been there before and felt the bitter pain of defeat. Would this be our day? Surely, it had to be.
In truth, the final did not turn out to be a great spectacle. We had played far better in past County finals and lost! It's all about winning. In that regard Mernagh, Carroll, the 2 Enrights and Redser showed admirable leadership. They knew what was required from past experience and stood up at the appropriate times when Drom threatened.
A lot of people contended that Damien Young's mistake from a Wayne Cully sideline ball was the turning point, but this is debateable. Before halftime Drom had pulled the score back to 1-7 to 0-9 points and were hitting form. Eddie Enright caught the next ball and hit a magnificent score off his left side from a distance. Next, his brother Johnny gathered possession at midfield broke a couple of tackles and soloed on and hit a great score off his right without the ball touching his hand. It was vital to have the gap at half time and it deflated Drom. The Sars needed to regroup at halftime, to avoid over elaborating and focus on tacking on the points.
In the second half the backs were simply outstanding, the full back line in particular. Benny O'Sullivan cleared ball after ball. Tom King and Gary Mernagh snuffed out everything that came at them. Paddy McCormack was a spectator as Drom couldn't manage to get a shot in on goal. The shot they did get at goal from a '21 was deflected over by a Mernagh save. Sarsfields midfield and forwards clicked into gear and Lillis, Pat Lawlor, Ruth and Redser knocked over points to increase the lead to seven and cruised home for the last 10 minutes, eventually winning by five.The feeling when the final whistle went, and when Redser lifted the Cup, was indescribable. The scenes were something to behold that evening in the Social Centre and around town.
Ger Cunningham, Ger Corbett and Tommy Maher have to get a
lot of credit in the calm manner they've gone about things all year. It
is a very professional set up in which nothing is left to chance and
players are given every opportunity to perform, which is all you can ask
of amateur players. When they are asked to take on responsibility, they
Overall, it has been a fantastic year for the club and, it has to be said, for GAA in the town of Thurles. If the barren period for Sars coincided with an era of industrial decline, brought about by the closure of the Sugar Factory and other such industries, the town has no doubt now entered a new phase by reclaiming and reaffirming its supremacy in hurling terms in Tipperary, in parallel with its economic regeneration. Such a win has undoubtedly given the town a new lease of life and brought the community together in a way nothing else could. Jimmy Doyle, in an interview before the Harty Cup Final in April, alluded to the fact that something was missing in Thurles that only a big win in a major competition would bring. "Thurles town badly needs a big hurling win." said Jimmy "It's been 30 years since the Sars last won the county championship and a Harty title would do nicely." If the Harty Cup team fell just short, the Sarsfields didn't disappoint.
Aside from the Sarsfields, Dúrlas Óg had a magnificent year in all age groups. Thurles CBS, as previously mentioned, fell at the final hurdle in the Dr Harty competition after some terrific displays. This all bodes well for the future, as without good underage structures, success at Senior level in 2005 would have rung hollow. There is tireless work going on at underage level in the town and one gets the feeling that this title for the Sars will stimulate this new momentum and inspire confidence. There are no guarantees of course, but a cursory look at the age profile of the Senior team would indicate that they will be competing at the ‘business end’ of the Championship for sometime yet. The confidence gained in 2005 will surely stand the team in good stead for 2006 and in the years to come.
All in all, a terrific year.
Up the Blues!
For the record, the panel of players and management for 2005 were as follows:
1. Patrick McCormack (Tonagha)
O’Sullivan (Moyne Road)
3. Gary Mernagh (Cluain Glas)
4. Tom King (Beechwood Lawns)
5. Stephen Lillis (Killinan)
6. Brendan Carroll (Clongour)
7. John Lawlor (Childers Park)
Enright (Dublin Road)
9. Wayne Cully (Collins Park)
Enright (Dublin Road)
11. Ger O’Grady (C) (Childers Park)
12. Jim Corbett (Inisfallen Avenue)
13. Richie Ruth (Bawntameena)
14. Larry Corbett (Willowmere Drive)
15. Pat Lawlor (Childers Park)
16. Jim Mackey (Bohernanave), Kieran O’Connor (Killinan), 17. Shane Ryan (Bohernamóna Road), 18. Eoin Costello (Bohernamóna Road), 19. Stephen Mason (Killinan), 20. Patrick Bourke (Moyne Road), 21. Aidan Dundon (Beakstown), 22. Eamon Walsh (Ballyheed), 23. Tommy Collins (Colmyard), 24. David O’Dwyer (Cabra), 26. Lee Shanahan (Childers Park), 28. Tony Connolly (Cabra), 29. John Connors (Childers Park), 30. Eoin Russell (Brittas Road), 31. Mickey Collins (Colmyard), 32. Brian Graydon (Monadreen), 33. Jamie Murphy (Monadreen), 34. David Kearns (Killinan), 35. Barry O’Dwyer (Bawntameena)
Coaching Staff and Backroom team
Selectors: Tommy Maher, Ger Corbett
Masseur: Mick Clohessy
Team Doctor: Paul Ryan
Equipment Manager: Andy Rossiter
Sarsfields played 2 matches in the Munster Club Championship after
winning the County title.