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Westside Column - Review of Sars-Toome Match

posted 19 Oct 2010, 18:19 by Unknown user
A novel final pairing will line up on Sunday week following an eventful semi-finals’ day at the Stadium. Once again Clonoulty had to show rallying spirit to come from behind to overtake Kildangan in the final quarter. Sarsfields for their part needed a late late controversial free to save their crown against luckless Toomevara. The controversies and the ‘afters’ were among the main talking points from games of disappointing quality.

Four becomes two as the title race is down to a final between the champs of West and Mid. Not the most memorable of semi-finals though no shortage of incidents to busy the fans afterwards. That free that gave Pa Bourke the chance to rescue a game that seemed lost was as debated – and debatable – as the Henry Shefflin one in the ’09 All Ireland. It rescued fourteen-man Sarsfields from what would have been a painful defeat. ‘Redser’s’ dismissal seemed to tip the scales Toome’s way but they failed to clinch it and paid a heavy price at the climax. The tension of it all boiled over briefly afterwards, though it hardly amounted to the ‘mass brawl’ that ‘The Examiner’ claimed.

There’s no doubt the heavyweight fixture here was the Sarsfields and Toomevara clash. There was so much history between the two, so much baggage from previous encounters that it was bound to have a raw edge. Briefly it threatened to boil in the first half after ‘Redser’ clashed with the Dunnes. That came after a fairly nondescript opening phase during which Sarsfields built a modest advantage. They’d enjoyed a more generous spread of scorers against Ken Dunne’s monopoly of Toome’ flags.

That brief scuffle seemed to do more for Toomevara, as you’d expect. They’re hardy boys who’ve been through many battles and know how to bully oppositions. Getting involved was unwise from a Sars’ perspective. By half time Toome’ were within a point, 0-9 to 0-8, the paltry scoring reflective of a contest where defences mostly dominated with neither attack developing any worthwhile momentum.

It remained well poised in the third quarter before Toomevara played what seemed like a trump card in the person of Eoin Brislane. His impact was immediate though mixing wides with scores. Nonetheless his goal midway through the half seemed a definite turning point especially when ‘Redser’ was red carded for an off-the-ball clash before play could restart. It was a double whammy for Sars, the pendulum now surely with Toomevara for the final quarter.

 Ye they didn’t make immediate impression and for the next ten minutes the game fluctuated, point for point the lead exchanging several times. Yet you sensed that Toome’ were having the better of it and all they lacked was the forward finishing to carry them over the line. John O’Brien stepped up with two crucial flags and even though several of his forward colleagues were mis-firing it seemed to be enough to carry them through.

It wasn’t. Ultimately the game came down to a most dramatic conclusion. A Brislane point approaching the hour mark put Toome’ two-up and that seemed to be the clincher. Sarsfields now needed a goal and they hadn’t threatened one all day. But two points is a treacherous advantage as Toome’ would discover deep into added time. The controversy that ensued actually centred on two refereeing decisions. First Kevin O’Gorman was given a free out when on his knees and seeming to over-carry possession. Play switched to the Sars’ attack where Denis Maher took possession in front of goal and was promptly surrounded by a phalanx of Toome’ defenders. Crowded out and nowhere to go the forward seemed to be out of options but somehow was awarded a free. Up stepped Pa Bourke to lash home a stunning winner. A final passage of play saw Padraic Maher bring out a Paddy O’Brien side line ‘cut’ and the clearance signalled the end.

It’s not how we like games to end; it’s always better to have a clear cut winner where the referee isn’t the centre of debate. Was it a free? Or would it have been given if Sarsfields were leading? I doubt it. Still there’s plenty of precedents ranging from that Shefflin free in the ’09 All Ireland to the Waterford free that drew the Munster final last July and here’s one for Toomevara if they’re inclined to complain over much: remember a few years back and that late and dubious decision that gave them victory over Mullinahone.

More regrettable entirely was the field invasion that followed the final whistle. One supporter was ‘floored’ but it hardly amounted to a ‘mass brawl’. Please leave the sensationalism to tatty tabloids. Nonetheless there is an issue here relating to the crowd of people who had side line access for the end of the match. Earlier I was remarking positively on the sight of so many youngsters pucking about at half time but the downside of such pitch access was what we saw at the end. There appeared to be very few stewards on duty for what was a very volatile situation. I suspect things will be a lot tighter for the final.

So Sarsfields survive and will be the hot fancy now for the final. They stole this one and I’m sure will be very unhappy with the overall form of the team. The likes of Padraic Maher, Kevin O’Gorman and Michael Cahill certainly held them together in defence where apart from the impact of Eoin Brislane they shut out the Toome’ attack very efficiently. Incidentally why David Kennedy was detailed to police Brislane and, more importantly, was left in the job despite his difficulties remains a mystery, especially with so many stronger man-markers available to them.

I thought Michael Gleeson was excellent at midfield and Pa Bourke takes the overall honours in attack. He hit a string of bad wides in the first half but overall did most to pull them through. ‘Redser’ too was effective but then squandered all the credits by getting sent off at such a crucial juncture in the game. The rest of the forwards didn’t impress.

For Toomevara I’m sure the post mortem will ask why Eoin Brislane was left on the bench for so long. John O’Brien near the end of the game produced a few quality points but overall their attack was back to North final levels of ineffectiveness. Ken Dunne and to a lesser extent David Young carried the midfield effort while Benny Dunne led the resistance in defence. Is it the end of an era for Toomevara? Now when has that been heard before?

The opening game was of modest standard too though on the positive side it remained tight and competitive to the end. Clonoulty started slowly in the quarter-final and they were very sluggish here too. Kildangan looked much more business like early on and when Eoin Gleeson raced in for an immediate goal it set the early trend. Goalie, Declan O’Dwyer, got in the way to bravely prevent a second goal, so that Clonoulty could be grateful that the margin didn’t stretch out of reach.

Slowly the West champions started to nibble away at the advantage, John O’Neill and Thomas Butler getting some of their better scores, and by half time the lead was back to a very manageable two points. Still there was no immediate surge from Clonoulty in the second half; they were still a goal behind at the three-quarter stage.

Ultimately I’d credit John O’Neill and John O’Keeffe as the two central characters in rescuing the day for the West side. O’Neill’s close control and sheer trickiness on the ball gave flashes of what he was like before that knee injury took the most of a year out of his career. He hit a few sweet points as they made a late push for glory and it was from one of his deliveries that Fiachra O’Keeffe worked the match-turning goal, out-fielding taller opponents before flicking one-handed to the net.

At midfield John O’Keeffe again underlined recent impressions scoring four points from play and generally showing class in everything he did.  I expect him to be on the Tipp panel whenever a new management is put in place.

Thereafter, however, Clonoulty will be disappointed with their overall play, too often taking the wrong option passing aimlessly when directness was called for. In the end they could be thankful for Declan O’Dwyer who made another superb stop from Darragh Egan and had the recovery reflexes to push the rebound away as a forward pounced. I think Padraig Heffernan has useful potential in defence but they’ll be concerned about the attack where Timmy Hammersley’s form has definitely hit a trough and the others aren’t contributing enough either.

In the end Clonoulty were marginal winners over an honest but limited Kildangan team. Darragh Egan needed to make a bolder impact if the North team was to progress and even his free taking went on the blink this time. I thought Joe Gallagher made a useful contribution at midfield despite marking John O’Keeffe. Their half back line was steady too but in the end they didn’t have enough in attack to pull this one off. Still I suspect they’ll be reasonably happy with a season that brought the club further than it’s been since the forties.

The Allstar function had as expected a strong Tipperary flavour following that remarkable All Ireland win in September. Six statuettes plus hurler of the year and young hurler of the year was a rich harvest, one that reflects our prominence on such an historic occasion.

Unlike the football equivalent I don’t think there was any controversy in the hurling selection, though as ever you could make a case for this or that individual. From a Tipperary perspective the unlucky player was Padraic Maher. He certainly gave an All Star display in the final but it was the quality of the opposition that kept him out. ‘Brick’ Walsh was seen as the strongest centre back throughout the season, though Noel McGrath inflicted some damage in the semi-final. The Kilkenny pair of Walsh and Delaney were always rated highly for the wings, even allowing for a moderate final from Tommy especially, and I suppose a negative on Padraic Maher’s record was the Cork game and the difficulty he had against O’Hailpin. He reinvented his season through the qualifiers and I sense that he may well be the future Tipperary centre back.

Interestingly Kilkenny got three defenders on the selection even though they conceded
4-17 in the final. I was delighted Paul Curran got recognised after shrugging off the difficulties of the Galway game to turn in powerful displays in both the All Ireland semi-final and final. He may not be regarded as the classiest player on the team but is there a tougher competitor on the panel?

It would have been a major shock if Lar Corbett didn’t receive the individual award after such a high-scoring season. His winning point against Galway and that hat-trick against Kilkenny were among the season highlights. I haven’t checked this out but somebody suggested to me that Lar only touched the ball seven times in the All Ireland final. It’s always quality over quantity with Lar.

Brendan Maher too was widely tipped as the likely young player of the year since Noel McGrath took the award last season. Brendan seemed to pass under the radar for some until late in the season when belatedly his outstanding contribution was recognised. Isn’t it remarkable that prior to the Galway game we had no player chosen for the team of the championship that far. Noel McGrath now has two All Star statuettes and he won’t be twenty until next December. Not bad is it. Great to see Brendan Cummins and Eoin Kelly getting on the honours list once more. These awards mark a kind of last call on the 2010 championship; from now on the focus will be on 2011 and a new championship.