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Previews of Munster Final

posted 24 Nov 2010, 01:10 by Unknown user
The Irish Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Corbett still as keen as ever as he faces De La Salle


GAELIC GAMES: IF ANYONE could be forgiven for running low on enthusiasm for hurling right now, it’s surely Lar Corbett. The Tipperary forward has had an incredibly long and ultimately brilliant season, underlined by his hat-trick of goals in the epic All-Ireland final win over Kilkenny, then set in bold by his second All Star and both the GAA’s and GPA’s Hurler of the Year awards.

Yet here he is, almost three months after his man-of-the-match display in Tipperary’s All-Ireland victory, trying to raise his game once again: this time for Sunday’s AIB Munster hurling final with his club Thurles Sarsfields. Truth is Corbett couldn’t be any more enthusiastic about Sunday, not least of all because his Thurles club have never won the Munster title.

In fact Sunday marks their first final appearance, and even though their opponents, De La Salle of Waterford, won this title only two years ago, Thurles Sarsfields will start as marginal favourites. Corbett’s presence on their team effectively explains that, as he’s maintained his goal-scoring record practically throughout the Tipperary championship, and also claimed the crucial goal in their narrow win over Kilmallock in the Munster semi-final.

There was a bit of a scare last week when some sort of winter vomiting bug hit the Thurles camp, with Corbett among those reportedly laid low for a few days. However, Corbett dismissed those fears yesterday and declared his and his team-mates full fitness for Sunday’s showdown at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

“Yeah a few of the lads got a little sick alright last week,” said Corbett, who hit 6-11 over the course of the Tipperary’s championship. “But no, everything is perfect now, and we’re just looking forward to Sunday.”

Of course Thurles Sarsfields are far from a one-man show; fellow All-Ireland winners Pádraic Maher and Pa Burke have been equally outstanding this season and there’s been some big scoring too from Denis Maher and John Enright.

Indeed it’s something of a mystery as to why they’ve never claimed a Munster club championship. In beating Clonoulty-Rossmore in the county final last month, they claimed their 31st Tipperary title – which is still way more than the next best, Toomevara, who have won 22. It was also their third county title in six years, have also won in 2005 and 2009. But they’ve never quite managed to transfer that form to the Munster club championship, although it should be said their peak years, in the 1950s and early 1960s, pre-dated the Munster club championship, which only started in 1964.

Manager Michael Gleeson was recently named a selector on the new Tipperary hurling management team of Declan Ryan and coach Tommy Dunne, to succeed Liam Sheedy – but for now his focus is entirely on Sunday’s game and facing the challenge of the Waterford champions. Thurles are down one man and have known about it for a while, as former Tipperary captain Ger “Redser” O’Grady remains suspended following the two-month ban imposed after he was sent off in the county semi-final.

De La Salle, who have Waterford forward John Mullane leading their attack and came through an extremely tough battle against Cork champions Sarsfields in their semi-final, are looking to win the Munster title for only the second time. Yet Thurles Sarsfield are quoted as 4 to 9 favourites to advance to the All-Ireland semi-finals, where they’ll meet newly-crowned Galway champions Clarinbridge, on February 18th.

In Sunday’s Leinster hurling club final, Oulart-the-Ballagh are 4 to 6 favourites with O’Loughlin Gaels quoted 7 to 5, while up north, Crossmaglen Rangers are 4 to 9 to beat Naomh Conaill in the Ulster club football final and claim their eighth provincial title.

Meanwhile, former Galway and Portumna captain Ollie Canning has reiterated his intention to retire from intercounty hurling, confirming to manager John McIntyre that the 2010 season was his last.

Long-serving Dublin hurling forward Kevin Flynn has also announced his decision to retire from the intercounty game after some 15 years service, having made his senior debut in the league season of 1995.

Westside Column


It will be a big day for Thurles Sarsfields as they chase a first ever provincial club title. De Le Salle of Waterford will be dogged opponents at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. The ‘Blues’ go in as favourites but they better be prepared to slug it out against the champions of ’08. Our reps will have widespread backing hereabouts as they attempt to round off a memorable hurling year for the county with another title.

Elsewhere Declan Ryan and his cabinet are settling into their mission. They met the players at the weekend for fitness tests and already have made a decision to add four to the group.

A provincial final is virgin territory for Sarsfields so the ambition has to be strong to go where none from the famed club has gone before. Occasional county final winners are often satisfied with local glory but after taking back-to-back titles Sarsfields’ sights must be on a bigger prize.

They face a tough one against the Waterford men. De La Salle, often in the shadow of Mount Sion and Ballygunner, emerged into the limelight two years ago to take a first ever county title. That win opened the door to a Munster success at the first attempt before the might of Portumna proved too much in the national final.

This year they’re back for a second bite and no doubt will have built on the experience of ’08. Their marquee player is undoubtedly John Mullane but perhaps a bit like Lar Corbett he doesn’t always bring his inter-county flair to the club scene. Two points was his contribution from play against Sarsfields of Cork in the semi-final. Still, given his known potential, he’ll take watching, a job tailor-made surely for Michael Cahill.

While Mullane is the big-name player in attack it’s perhaps other areas of the side that Sarsfields will need to worry most about. Close watchers of the Waterford champions identify their half back line as the foundation stone on which progress is built. Kevin Moran at number six has been doing for De La Salle what Padraic Maher has been doing for Sarsfields. He was outstanding in the semi-final, even stepping up to deliver the equalising point which sent the game to extra time. It all prompted the team’s manager to suggest that Waterford should never play him any place bar half back.

On one of his flanks is another player of know ability in Bryan Phelan. He’s drifted to the fringes of the Waterford team in recent times and has just announced his inter-county retirement. However, for De La Salle he’s a key player. On the other wing is one of a number of exciting younger players on the team. Stephen Daniels featured on those Harty and All Ireland winning De Le Salle teams and is making quite an impression now at senior level with his club; he was man of the match in the county final against Ballygunner.

Altogether it’s a formidable half back line, one that Sarsfields might struggle to penetrate. Behind them the full line is a solid one in front of ex-Waterford goalie, Stephen Brenner.

At midfield the main man for the Waterford champions is Dean Twomey, though overall this is a zone where Sarsfields might hope to gain an edge.

In attack then it’s inevitable that Mullane will be the focus of most attention. However, it would be wise for Sarsfields to pay heed too to wing forward, Paidi Nevin, said to be a much improved player. He outshone Mullane in the county final. Another player to watch is corner forward, Jake Dillon, again a product of those All Ireland winning De Le Salle school sides. Indeed wing forward Eddie Barrett is yet another player who came to prominence through the De Le Salle all-conquering college sides. Those school teams certainly proved useful to the club, and indeed the county, remembering that present All Star Noel Connors first drew notice in those Harty games with the likes of Thurles CBS.

Interestingly a few of the Thurles lads will be renewing rivalry with some of their De Le Salle Harty opponents from 2008. Kevin O’Gorman and Denis Maher played key roles with the CBS that year; present corner back, David Maher, was also on the Thurles panel and Bill McCormack, sub goalie on Sunday for the Sarsfields, was the shot stopper for the school two years ago.

For Sarsfields it’s going to be another huge test of character as much as one of hurling ability. It’s quite incredible the number of club games that have gone to extra time in recent weeks as winter conditions tend to act as a great leveller of standards. Often it’s the team with the biggest heart that gets through, the ones who want it most and are prepared to get down and dirty in the cause. In the past maybe Sarsfields were seen as a side that mightn’t have the stomach for such attrition, though I think the present side has shown itself to be made of sterner stuff; the team of a few years ago would hardly have come out of Kilmallock.

A bit like De La Salle, Sarsfields are strong at the back where Padraic Maher leads the resistance – might that suggest a low-scoring game with both defences playing impressively? Maher is the eye-catching one, bustling out with those raking clearances, while Michael Cahill is the less-obvious man-marker, doing the basics in a non-fussy way. Kevin O’Gorman too is having a strong season at full.

I was disappointed with Sarsfields’ midfield in Kilmallock so this is a chance to show better form a week after Michael Gleeson was promoted to the Tipp panel. They’ll need improving in attack where the ongoing absence of ‘Redser’ is no help. Denis Maher has been one of their best in this department but they’re always hoping for more from Corbett and even Pa Bourke who at times delivers only snatches of his potential. Above all their work rate will surely have to improve in this department because for long spells against Kilmallock there were well beaten.

Their corner forwards are regularly withdrawn but they seem to face something of a dilemma in that Aidan McCormack does best when introduced as an impact substitute. Michel O’Brien too delivered when he came on as a replacement in Kilmallock so I suspect it will be back to the same starting formation on Sunday.

Sunday’s winners face a February All Ireland semi-final against new Galway champions, Clarinbridge. There’s a perception this year that the race for All Ireland honours is very open. It might not be so in other years so Sarsfields need to go for it this time. They have the hurling but it remains to be seen if they have the heart to win a November dogfight. De Le Salle have shown a doggedness that won’t be easily quelled in November. They trailed for a lot of the semi-final but still came good in the end. In the group stages of the Waterford championship they were whacked by Ballygunner to the tune of fifteen points; in the county final they turned that into an eight-point win against the same opposition. Spirited stuff indeed, so Sarsfields will have to win this the hard way. Good luck to them.

Meanwhile Tipperary’s new management has made its first major decision by adding four players to the winter panel. Three of the four come from the U21 team with John Coghlan, John O’Neill and Sean Carey all getting the nod on the basis of their hurling during that U21 success. The fourth is Michael Gleeson whose consistent midfield form for Sarsfields has won him notice. As ever the selection of the four will be debated with plenty of alternative names being mentioned. Incidentally the pruning of the panel won’t be done until January when collective training and competitive action resumes.

I suppose John O’Neill was a fringe player with the panel last year when injury kept him sidelined so his inclusion now won’t be a surprise. Sean Carey definitely showed potential with the U21s so I’m not surprised by his elevation either. The inclusion of John Coghlan, however, is s surprise for me though I must admit to limited viewing of the player. Tommy Dunne certainly had an up-close perspective on the Moyne/Templetuohy man and clearly saw enough to impress him.

Last year a number of players were promoted on the basis of club form and ultimately it didn’t prove the best yardstick. This time at least the evidence comes from county involvement. There’s more of a natural progression when players graduate through county minor and U21 to the senior panel; only rare exceptions buck that trend, Lar Corbett being one.

One player not given the nod by the new management is Cashel’s Ryan O’Dwyer and he has now apparently decided to transfer allegiance, club and county, to Dublin. Work as a teacher has taken him to Dublin and it appears that he wishes to transfer to Kilmacud Crokes and also to make himself available to Anthony Daly and the Dublin team. It’s a huge blow to Cashel K.C.

You’ll get very mixed views on Ryan and you know mine aren’t emphatically one-way either. People tended to admire his combative style, a version of Patrick Maher’s take-‘em-on approach, though perhaps less disciplined in terms of fouling. He had his good days with the county team but then had some bad ones too, perhaps the worst being that one in Cork where he suffered at the hands of John Gardner. His contribution to Cashel was immense saving them from relegation some years back and being a vital part of a club side that had clearly hit a trough after the crest of the early 1990s. He was born unlucky to miss out on Cashel’s golden era. He’ll be an irreplaceable loss to the King Cormacs and their reluctance to lose him is understandable, though ultimately there’s nothing they can do if persuasion fails.

It seems he sounded out the new Tipperary management concerning his prospects of a recall to the panel but didn’t get much encouragement on that front. Maybe even making the inquiry was seen as pushy. Anyway clearly he’s very keen to play inter-county hurling and now sees his best prospects in a move to the capital. He’s not the first to take that route, even Eamon O’Shea played with Dublin for a spell.