The Early Years: Stapleton and Semple
Thurles has had a tradition of hurling as far back as the early half of the 18th century when an early patron of the town, Lord Matthew, Earl of Llandaff, had his own private team. Games were played between competing Earls of the time with Thurles noted for being a strong outfit. This may give an indication to the success of Thurles Sarsfields since its foundation.
With the foundation of the GAA in 1884, Gaelic Games were accorded an organisation and a focal point in the town of Thurles. As with many clubs in Tipperary at the time, records do not reveal the exact date and location of the foundation of the club, but tradition gives the year of its inception sometime around 1885. It is thought the club is a descendant of a football club called "Thurles St. Patrick's". Certainly, the Cashel Sentinel lists Thurles as being affiliated to the GAA in 1885, with Hugh Ryan, James Butler and Denis Maher elected as the first president, secretary and treasurer of the club.
The first major contribution of the club was to organise the famous Gaelic Tournament on Easter Sunday, 1886. This was a red letter day for Thurles and it marked an epoch in the history of the GAA. The town had been given the honour of bringing forth the Association in 1884, and Easter Sunday, 1886 was the day of its baptism. The tournament organising committee was Hugh Ryan, Andy Callanan, Denis Maher, James Stapleton, John Gleeson and James Butler, all officers of the Thurles club and all names found around the club to this day. The following clubs took part:
Hurling: Metropolitans, Dublin v. Holycross; Moycarkey v. Nenagh.
Football: Faughs v. Two-Mile-Borris; Bray v. Thurles; Kingstown v. Templemore; Davitt's v. Central Tipperary.
The fact that the club fielded a team in the football tournament only, gives credence to the belief that Sarsfields were originally formed as a football club, changing in 1887 to hurling. The reason for the switch of codes? Jim Maher (part of the Killinan dynasty of Mahers and whose nephew John captained the 1945 All-Ireland winning Tipperary team) tells Raymond Smith in "Decades of Glory", that when Thurles played Loughmore in 1886 at football in Templemore, J.K. Bracken (one of the seven present for the founding of the G.A.A. in Hayes's Hotel) was on horseback trying to keep the huge crowds off the field. Thurles were pressing hard for a winner late in the game when a certain goal came back off the flank of Bracken's horse, who had ridden across the goalmouth. The Loughmore backs cleared the rebound and won the game. "Thurles were so fed up at this stroke of ill luck", recounted Jim Maher "that they came away from Templemore vowing that they would put all their efforts into hurling after that"
In the early 1900's the club became known as the "Thurles Blues", but it was in their original colours of green and gold that it had the honour of winning the first county championship in 1887 (see team photo below). Teams consisted of twenty-one players and Thurles under the captaincy of Denis Maher defeated a North selection in the final by the rather dull sounding scoreline of 0-3 to 0-0. The club then represented Tipperary in the All-Ireland series and had the unique distinction of winning the first All-Ireland senior hurling final by beating Meelick of Galway by 1 goal, 1 point and 1 forfeit point (a forfeit point was given if a defender's clearance went straight out over the sideline) to no score.Jim Stapleton, from Bohernamona Road, was captain of the team for the final;The teams powerful play helping to see off Clare's Smith O'Brien's and Kilkenny's Tullaroan in the semi-final. In the final itself, Coolcroo's Tommy Healy struck the winning goal set up by captain Stapleton and so Tipperary had title number one.
Seventeen years were to pass before the club regained the county championship. This was partly due to a Parnellite split in Ireland, which meant there was no championship hurling played for three years, but the main reason Thurles were kept off the county roll of honour was the dominance of the legendary Tubberadora team of the 1890's. During these seventeen years, Thurles were to suffer a couple of bad defeats. In the county final of 1894 Drombane beat Thurles by 4-4 to no score and worse was to follow when they made it back to a final of 1901 where they were thrashed 7-11 to 0-1 by a strong Ballytarsna outfit.
Sometime during these intervening years the club adopted the colours of blue and white and became better known as the "Blues". Tom Semple was installed as captain for the 1904 campaign and the club went about redressing and reversing their fortunes on the field. They won back the championship in 1904 by defeating Lahorna De Wets (a team representing the parish of Cloughjordan and later to be renamed Kilruane MacDonaghs) by five points. Thurles had the upper-hand on De Wets at this period in time, and faced them in county finals of 1906 and 1907, running out convincing winners in both games. Thurles defeated Racecourse/Grangemockler in 1909 by double scores and trounced Toomevara by fourteen points in 1911 to cap an exceptional run.
Semple was the focal point of the team and his influence can't be emphasised enough. In eight years, he led Thurles to a phenomenal six county titles , three Munster titles and two All-Ireland titles. He was a leader in the real sense of the word and dragged the club up to his high standards using innovative tactics and training methods. The team favoured a ground hurling style and worked hard to perfect it. Jack Mockler (back row extreme right in the photo above) recounts how training under Semple involved the players lining up outside the Confraternity Hall, marching out to the Ragg, back in again to spend an hour or two skipping, some work on the punch-ball and then a practice match. It certainly puts Ger Loughnane's training of the Clare hurlers on the Hill of Crusheen in the ha'penny place! Semple also led the line well using his huge strength and strong ground stroke off either side to good effect. He was handy with the ball in hand too. He won the 1906 All-Ireland long-puck championship, hitting a 9oz ball (twice the weight of a modern day sliotar, see photo below) 96 yards.
Semple's Blues, in large part back-boned by his own clubmates but with a sprinkling of Moycarkey and Jockey players, won the All-Ireland championships of 1906 (defeating Faughs of Dublin) and 1908 (defeating Kickhams of Dublin). In Munster, the Blues biggest rivals were Dungourney of Cork, with the 1909 Munster Final perhaps the pick of the matches between them. In an epic, Thurles were trailing 1-2 to 2-6 well into the second half with a bloodied Semple off the field getting treatment for a nasty cut on the head. As was the tradition of the day, the Cork fans present were letting off pigeons to signal the near-certain win. They were in for a shock! A bloodied and bandaged Semple returned to the play and dragged the "Old Blues" back into the game near single-handedly. Thurles laid siege to the Cork goal scoring 1-8 to win an incredible match 2-10 to 2-6. They came unstuck in the All-Ireland final against Mooncoin of Kilkenny when a near-waterlogged pitch didn't suit the Blues ground hurling style.
The team of this era was truly an exceptional one and Tom Semple, although born a Drombane man, came to symbolise the Old Blues hurling team and Thurles Town in general. In recognition of his exploits on the hurling field and his contribution to the G.A.A as an administrator at all levels from club through to national level, Thurles Sportsfield was renamed Semple Stadium in his honour in 1971 (see programme below).
After 1912 the club entered the first lean period of its history. The Blues were out of the county honours list until 1929 and in that time won just two Mid titles in 1915 and 1925. Although competitive, they came up against another strong Boherlahan (previously called Tubberadora) side, who won six Mid titles in seven years during the 1910's, led by the original Johnny Leahy. Wider political events like the 1916 Rising and War of Independence unsettled the playing of hurling in Thurles and Tipperary, with no Mid championship played in 1921 for example. A Thurles/Moycarkey outfit did land a Mid title in 1920 however.
1929 - 1946: A great rivalry with Moycarkey!
In 1929, Sarsfields, under the captaincy of Jack Stapleton, ended an eighteen year wait to win the county title for the first time since 1911.John Joe Callanan (already an All-Ireland medal winner with Dublin in 1920) captained Tipperary to the 1930 All-Ireland, beating Dublin in the final 2-7 to 1-3, with John-Joe scoring 1-1 from corner-forward. Alongside him was the great Martin Kennedy of Toomevara, and later Kildangan, who matched John Joe's scoring exploits on the day. Sarsfields had seven players on the starting team with another Tom Butler on the substitutes bench.
Indeed, this was Tipperary's Triple Crown Year, with wins in the Junior and Minor Finals also. Sarsfields players were prominent in all panels with — Junior: (2) M. McGann and Timmy Connolly; Minor: (6) Jack Russell (captain), John Lanigan, Johnny Semple, T. Semple, G. Heaphy, L. Bourke; Senior: (8)J. J. Callanan (captain), Tommy Butler, Jimmy O'Loughlin, Michael Maher, John Maher, Jim Lanigan, Mick Ryan and Jimmy Harney.
Still, with all the talent available to the club, it meant very little in real terms as they came up against an exceptional Moycarkey-Borris outfit, who won five Mid-titles in-a-row between 1930 and 1934. Unlike Boherlahan in the 1910's, Moycarkey seemed to bring the best out in Thurles Sarsfields, and they regrouped to topple the might of the red and green.
There were other barriers though. The structure of GAA in Thurles had begun to change in 1934. Wrensboro Kickhams (earlier known as the Black & Ambers in Thurles and based at the Well Lane field on Mitchell Street in the early 1900's and later to be renamed Thurles Kickhams) were officially formed in 1934, weakening Sarsfields with no less than forty-one(!) players transferring "across the river" - the River Suir acted as a natural geographical divider in Thurles then, with the Kickhams representing the east of the town for many.
Nevertheless, Sarsfields shrugged off this blow and won the 1935 county title against the odds, ironically defeating the Kickhams in the Mid-Final after a replay, in front of a huge crowd in Boherlahan. Many people travelled from neighbouring parishes to see these matches, such was the novelty of two teams from the same town playing against one another. It also illustrates the strength of hurling in the town and the pull it had on the people of the town. Tommy Doyle describes in his book how the town was virtually deserted for both games, as people travelled out to the matches any way they could. Sarsfields were that bit sharper in the replay and won through. In the county semi-final Newport were beaten 7-7 to no score and a Jim Lanigan inspired Sarsfields thrashed Carrick Swans 6-5 to 0-2 in the final.
Sarsfields won the 1936 county title easily enough, defeating Roscrea 2-10 to 0-3. In 1937 though there was a huge shock when Wrensboro Kickhams, in perhaps their finest hour, defeated a Thurles Sarsfields team looking for a county three-in-a-row, by 3-9 to 0-2 with both Sarsfields scores coming from frees! This defeat prompted a lot of soul searching amongst Sarsfields people of the time. Returning from the 1937 Munster Final, Jim Lanigan asked Tommy Doyle if he would consider switching allegiance and play for the Blues. Doyle promised to "change horse mid-stream", so to speak for the 1938 campaign along with his highly-rated brothers Gerry and Danny.
It was a brave move, as the town was divided along fairly strong lines at the time. You were a "Blue" or a "Wren". It proved a wise move as the addition of such high calibre players seemed to do the trick for Sarsfields, as they destroyed all-comers in the next two years. In 1938 Moycarkey were beaten 7-3 to 2-6 in the Mid-Final and Kildangan were overwhelmed 7-7 to 2-2 in the county final.
In the quest for county honours, the club were again victorious in 1939 (see team photo below) against a dogged Cashel in the final. Jim Lanigan captained the side as he had done in '35, '36 & '38 and captained Tipperary to All-Ireland honours in 1937. In perhaps Tipperary's finest hour, they annihilated Kilkenny 3-11 to 0-3 in Killarney.
After a three year wait, the club were county champions again in 1942, with Lanigan captaining the side to county honours for a fifth time. Sars destroyed Killenaule in the 1942 final by 8-5 to 0-1, after overcoming Moyne-Templetuohy in the Mid-Final.
Sarsfields then completed the second three-in-a-row in its history between 1944 and 1946, (the first was completed between 1906 and 1908) to notch the club's sixteenth county title in total. The 1944 final was a particularly bad-tempered one with Kilruane finishing the game with 10 players after a goalmouth melee ensued involving players and spectators. The game was held up while the pitch was cleared and then awarded to Sarsfields by the referee when Kilruane couldn't field a full team. Roscrea were defeated in 1945 in less controversial circumstances after a replay, and Carrick Swans were thumped 4-5 to 0-3 in the 1946 final. On the national stage, John Maher of Killinan captained Tipperary's All-Ireland winning team in 1945 (see photo below).
1929 to 1946 was a productive period for Sarsfields with the team winning nine Mid titles and nine county titles. It was certainly a good conversion rate on Mid titles in the county series! Mid hurling was probably at its strongest between 1929 and 1946 than at any other time in its history, as along with Sars' nine county titles, Moycarkey won six, and Boherlahan one. Out of the eighteen county titles on offer, a Mid team had won sixteen of them. Competition was ferocious in the division, with some huge battles between Sarsfields and Moycarkey in particular, the winner normally going on to become county champions.
1950-1975 A Golden era
In 1949, the Thurles Fennellys club was formed in Bohernanave, at a time when there was an abundance of hurlers in Thurles. Hurling was at its peak in the town with all three clubs competitive to varying degrees. Indeed, Fennelly's Larry Keane and Jimmy Moloney won minor All-Ireland medals that year with Tipperary, while Connie Keane and Paddy Brolan were selected on the Tipperary junior team. After a dispute in 1950 however, there was a mass exodus from the club with most players transferring to Sarsfields, and the Keane brothers, like the Doyles before them in 1938, went on to star for the Blues in key positions in the years that followed.
In 1952, Tommy Doyle captained Sarsfields to victory in the county final over a strong Borris-lleigh team, winning 5-6 to 2-8 in Nenagh, before 15,000 spectators. 1952 also saw the introduction of Tony Wall to the senior grade at club level, while he also captained the Tipperary minor team to All-Ireland success that year.
1955 heralded in a really dominant and golden era in Sarsfields history, with the club going on to win ten county titles in eleven years. A very strong Sarsfields team, captained by Mickey Byrne (now in his 15th year playing for Sarsfields), signalled their intent for the years ahead by thrashing Borris-lleigh 4-10 to 0-6 in the 1955 final. This was no scratch Borris-lleigh side with the likes of Jimmy Finn, Liam Devaney, Ned Ryan, Tim Ryan, Philly Ryan and Phil Kenny playing for the Maroon and Whites. All had been part of Tipp's three-in-a-row team between '49 and '51, and had been on Borris-lleigh teams that had won five North titles in six years between 1950 and 1955, along with county titles in '49, '50 and '53. There could have been yet more silverware for Sarsfields, but owing to a dispute over expenses with the Mid board, the club didn't take part in the 1954 championship!
1956 saw the club win an incredible "Triple Crown" of senior, junior and minor county titles. The '56 team (see below) defeated Lorrha in the final by 3-8 to 1-4, to claim title number nineteen. It's interesting to note that Toomevara decided to field a team at senior in '56 after failing to do so for a number of years as they were to end Sarsfields' winning streak in county finals in 1960. Jimmy Doyle, winner of six All-Ireland senior medals, created a record in 1956 when in one week he won four championships: Sunday, 23rd September, All-Ireland minor; Wednesday, 26th September, mid Tipperary minor; Sunday, 30th September, county minor and county senior championship.
Senior and minor county titles were won in 1957, the seniors beating a southern "combo" called Na Piarsaigh, 4-14 to 4-4 and another double was added in 1958, with a 4-11 to 3-3 win over Toomevara. As with a lot of wins around this time, opponents were neck and neck with Sars going into the final quarter, but a supremely confident team, full of self-belief pulled away and obliterated the challenge put up to them nearly every time. A club treble was missed out on in '58 when Sars minors were beaten in the county final by Roscrea.
In the 1959 county final, Kilruane were on level terms with about ten minutes left, but ended up beaten by nine points for Sarsfields to claim a five-in-a-row, the first Tipperary club to do so (see team photo below). Sars were denied a six-in-a-row when beaten by Toomevara in the 1960 decider, but there was some consolation when most of the players (Sean McLoughlin, the Keane and Doyle brothers plus Michael McElgunn among them) on the losing hurling side, had the honour of bringing the one and only county senior football title to the town with Thurles Crokes.
Many thought the 1960 defeat would be the end of the road for this team, instead it made them more determined to keep on winning. Another five-in-a-row was done between 1961 and 1965. In the years from 1954-1965 the club had won ten senior county championships, four county minor championships and three county junior championships, a record unrivalled in the county and very unlikely to be repeated by any club.
In 1961, Sarsfields needed a replay to get past Borrisokane in the county semi-final, and were set fair to gain revenge against Toomevara in the final, but the match was overshadowed by the death of Toome's Gerry Hough. Sarsfields (see team photo below) ran out four point winners in front of a somewhat muted crowd in Templemore.
1962 was a game that bore a lot of resemblance to the 2005 county final, as there was an all Mid pairing in the county final when Sarsfields met Moycarkey. It was a dour and tense affair much like the 2005 equivalent, where Sars eked out a one point win over the Moycarkey men, on a scoreline of 1-7 to 1-6.
1963 saw Sarsfields win their ninth straight Mid title with a win over Moycarkey, and they went on to defeat a coming Roscrea in the county final. On the 1963 team, Sarsfields had three sets of brothers; Michael and Noel Murphy, Jimmy and Paddy Doyle and Michael and Larry Keane. The team went on to make it ten Mid titles in-a-row the following year and pulled out all the stops in the county final to hammer Holycross, 5-13 to 1-4, with a supreme display of hurling. In 1965, the team's long run of Mid titles came to an end when Moycarkey got the better of the Blues after a replay but Sars regrouped and came through the backdoor to get to the county final, where they held Carrick Swans to a draw after a tired display. There was a sting in the tail however, when the Swans were blitzed 3-10 to 0-7 in the replay.
In this golden era for Thurles hurling, Ray Reidy captained the Tipperary minor All-Ireland team of 1955; Tony Wall the senior All-Ireland team in 1958 along with the 1952 minors; Jimmy Doyle did so in 1962 and 1965 and Michael Murphy had the honour in 1964. The "ten in eleven" team were blessed with leaders up the spine of the team and had many players well used to winning on the national stage which stood to them in moments of crisis.
Many believe the Tipperary team of the late '50's, early '60's was the best there ever was. Current Waterford manager, and 1966 Hurler of the Year Justin McCarthy says in his book "Hooked", "That Tipp team were as much a machine as the great Kerry football team of Sheehy, O'Shea and Spillane ever were. They too seemed relentless, invincible, overwhelming...That Tipp team of the 60's was the best i've ever seen". On that great Tipp team, you had regulars in Tony Wall, Jimmy Doyle and Sean McLoughlin from Sarsfields with other Blues, like Paddy Doyle, along with brothers Noel and Michael Murphy appearing occasionally in a very competitive hurling set up. Unquestionably, other Sarsfields players would have made the breakthrough onto the county team in any other era except this one. Eight-time All-Ireland medal winner, John Doyle, alluded to this in an interview with the Sunday Tribune's Enda McEvoy, in January 2005, "The late Noel Murphy (see photo above) of Thurles Sarsfields he nominates as a player who’d have made a name for himself anywhere else had he not had the misfortune to emerge in the right county at the wrong time."
1965 brought down the curtain on the golden era and what an era it had been! It was also the end of the road for one of the club's most loyal players, Mickey "Rattler" Byrne, who had contributed no less than twenty-three years of his life playing for Sarsfields, and who from 1942 to 1965 won fourteen senior county championship medals, a record unequalled to this day. Mickey is Thurles Sarsfields to the bone, and is still a huge figure at the club and a constant reminder of the high standards the club has set itself.
As when the first Gaelic tournament was hosted by Thurles on Easter Sunday 1886, the town was afforded the privilege of hosting the first Féile na nGael in 1971 (see photo below). This competition has gone from strength to strength with Thurles hosting the competition on a number of occasions since.
Back on the hurling fields of Tipperary, other clubs like Roscrea were building gradually to take on Sarsfields' mantle of top-dog in the county. Roscrea had already won a six-in-a-row of minor titles between 1958 and 1963, and along with Carrick-on-Suir and Moyne, they held the county senior title between them from 1966 to 1973. Sars landed Mid titles in '68 & '69 and were beaten by Roscrea in a close game in the 1970 county final. There was no shame in the defeat as Roscrea went on to win the All-Ireland club title that year and were in the middle of winning five county titles in six years. Sarsfields regained the county title in 1974 (see photo below) by beating Silvermines in the final by 3-6 to 1-10 with Jimmy Doyle captaining the side in the twilight of his career. The club had won a minor county final the previous year against Cashel, and a number of that panel featured in 1974.
The Lean Years 1975 - late 90's
It is difficult to pinpoint why the fortunes of the club slumped over the next number of years, maybe it was inevitable that the unprecedented success could not continue, maybe social changes were felt that bit more keenly in a town like Thurles, thus making it more difficult to interest young people in hurling. Whatever the exact reasons the club had to wait thirty-one years to lift the Dan Breen cup again.
When GAA President Con Murphy opened the club social centre, Áras Na Sáirséalach in 1977 however, it didn't feel as if the club was regressing. From that year on, all monthly meetings and annual conventions for the Tipperary County Board were held on the premises, with the bar not only became a focal point for club members and local people in Thurles, but also for GAA supporters country-wide on major Provincial and National match days.
In the GAA's centenary year of 1984, the clubhouse hosted many functions and Semple Stadium next door hosted the Centenary All-Ireland hurling final between Cork and Offaly in recognition of Thurles' place in the GAA community. Many club members played vital roles in the running of the occasion and continue to do so at Ireland's premier hurling venue.
1977 also saw Michael Gleeson represent Tipperary at corner-back on the team that lost to Clare after a replay in the Munster Championship. Current Tipperary selector Tom Barry (see photo below) played wing-back on the 1981 team that lost to Limerick, but both club and county were going through lean spells on the field, particularly Sars who were beaten in the 1979 county final by Kilruane. It looked promising earlier in the year, after Sarsfields destroyed Moycarkey 2-20 to 1-1 in the Mid final, but a strong finish by the Kilruane men in the county final deprived Sarsfields of a county crown.
The formation of Dúrlas Óg in 1979 to cater for all juvenile players in the town was a major step in the right direction for Thurles GAA. It filled a void in the town and was a badly needed step to interest young people in hurling again. This great club soon got into its stride, culminating in a Féile na nGael title in 1990, along with ten U-16 county titles in hurling between 1986 and 2005. This sort of underage success was sure to reap reward down the line as far as Sarsfields were concerned, and indeed it did, when three (Gary Mernagh, Pat Lawlor and Johnny Enright) of the 1990 Féile winning team were represented on the 2005 Sarsfields county winning side.
A Mid title was added in 1980 but the Sarsfields challenge was faltering as the quality of player that the club had been able to call on for near on ninety years, just wasn't there anymore. Instead, between 1981 and 1993 Moycarkey, Drom, Loughmore and Holycross dominated in the Mid Championship with the Blues out in the cold. When the Tipperary senior team did make the breakthrough in 1987, winning five Munster and two All-Ireland titles between 1987 and 1993, the rising tide of Tipp hurling didn't lift the Sarsfields boat with it.
The 1980s, while a relatively lean time for the club at senior level, nevertheless saw minor hurling success in 1985, with the same group of players winning the U-21 county crown in 1988, a first for the club. The junior hurling title was also added in 1987 along with numerous Mid titles.
Sprouts of regeneration were beginning to appear here and there. Sarsfields bridged a thirteen year gap by winning the 1993 Mid-final and repeated the win in 1996 with Jim Moloney captaining the side. Brendan Carroll represented Tipperary at left-half back in 1995, 1996 and 1997, bridging the fourteen year gap to our last representative Tom Barry in 1981.
Regeneration: late 90's - 2006
The late 1990s and early part of the new millennium has seen a regeneration of the clubs on-field fortunes. In 2000 the club landed the Mid title (see photo below) but fell to Toomevara in the final who were by far the most dominant team in the county over the previous decade.
Eddie Enright became the club's first All Star (under the new All-Star system, first begun in 1971) in 2001 winning his spot at midfield alongside Toomevara's Tommy Dunne. Larry Corbett also represented the club at half-forward and corner-forward throughout the victorious 2001 Inter-County campaign, landing both Munster and All-Ireland titles in a blemish free year in all competitions for the Premier men.
At club level, a three-in-a-row of minor county championships was done between 1999 and 2001 followed by an U-21 County crown in 2002. County senior final defeats between 2000 and 2003 slightly dented the notion that Thurles Sarsfields stood on the threshold of a very bright future but one felt that all that was needed was a change of fortune.
Backboned by a very young senior hurling team and hugely supported by the creation of a productive sponsorship deal with Dew Valley Foods (sponsoring the club generously since 2003), Thurles Sarsfields finally achieved their quest for glory in 2005 with Dan Breen returning home in the hands of Ger “Redser” O’Grady. Sarsfields also made a first foray since 1974 into the AIB Munster Club Championship, bowing out at the semi-final stage to Newtownshandrum.
With exciting redevelopment plans in the pipeline for the club, that includes new pitches, a ball alley, new dressing rooms, bar facilities etc, the club seems to be going from strength-to-strength in its bid to become Tipperary's premier club again. Hopefully victory in the 2005 county final will only be start of another successful chapter for the club as it tries to maintain the high standards set over the past 121 years of its existence.
Read more on success in 2005 by clicking on the following link, 2005 Return to the top in Tipp
Enda Ryan, 18th January, 2006.
Thro' the Thatch
(This article appeared in the 2005 Mid-Final programme and explains the significance and history of the Thurles crest)
The sportsgear worn by members of Thurles Sarsfields GAA Club has, for some time now, included a crest containing the legend 'Thro' the Thatch' and the words G.A.A., Thurles.
The origin of the legend dates back to the eighteenth century a time when hurling in the mid Tipperary area was flourishing mainly due to its association with the landed gentry. They were openly and actively involved in the hurling as players, team captains, trainers and powerful patrons. The newspapers of the time leave us in no doubt as to the influence of the landlords and the popularity of hurling, with several references to games played at Brittas, Thurles, Galbertstown, Loughmore etc.
Baron Purcell of Loughmore had his own private team with their hurling field beside his castle. in Thurles Lord Matthew, Earl of Llandaff, whose residence was in the town, also had his own celebrated team of hurlers of which he was justifiably proud. In a hurling match between teams of both of these great hurling patrons, one of the most famous of the Thurles team struck the ball with such force that it went clean through the thatch of a nearby cottage and broke several of the kitchen utensils inside. Ever since then 'Thro' the Thatch' has been a rallying cry for many a Thurles team.
As a crest it was to be seen on the jerseys of the old Thurles "Blues" captained so successfully by Tom Semple in the first decade of the last century. Large numbers of supporters also wore a printed cardboard badge similar to the crest. Luckily a few of these badges have survived to the present day and are treasured memorabilia of that bygone era. Principal designer of the crest was Sarsfields club secretary of that time - J.M. Kennedy. He was Thurles Town Clerk and he later compiled - A Chronology of Thurles (1945).
The Shamrock, with its traditional Christian and Irish symbolism, acts as a backround to the crest. G.A.A founder Michael Cusack, who always held Thurles in high regard, added an extra dimension to the significance of the three leafed shamrock. At the G.A.A foundation meeting in Hayes' Hotel in 1884, he sought to place the new association under the patronage of Archbishop Thomas Croke, Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt. As Cusack put it: - "Three names, as the three leafed shamrock, that go to the heart of every true son of the Green Isle".
Recalling the era of the Thurles "Blues" old hands remember that, during a game, whenever the tan (hurling ball) reached the forwards the cry would go up - "Now lads 'Thro the Thatch'. it was invariably the signal for an all out Thurles onslaught.