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Westside view of Thurles Sarsfields win in Munster Club semi-final

posted 16 Nov 2012, 07:20 by Unknown user   [ updated 16 Nov 2012, 07:25 ]

Westside column - November 17th 2012

A rousing encore from Thurles Sarsfields swept the Tipp champions to a thrilling victory over their namesakes from Cork. From positions of comfort in either half the home side was reined in and ultimately had to clinch victory in the most dramatic way possible. An injury-time volley of scores led by Richie Ruth’s decisive goal was necessary to send Thurles through to a second Munster decider in three years.
Elsewhere Mullane and De Le Salle also did a late snatch and grab at Sixmilebridge. The final on Sunday week will be a repeat of 2010 - hopefully with a different outcome this time.
It was certainly not for the fainthearted at Semple Stadium as Sarsfields and Sarsfields went toe-to-toe to produce a winter cracker. Winter hurling is typically dour, dogged, defence-dominated and low-scoring. Not here. Instead the champions of Tipperary and Cork produced an open, free-flowing contest replete with heroic individual displays, spectacular scores and an ending that could hardly have been choreographed any better for its dramatic impact.
Having chiselled out a win at Kilmallock this was more flamboyant stuff entirely. Kilmallock was winter hurling; on Sunday there was a whiff of summer days in the air. For that credit must go to both sides who went out to hurl and express themselves rather than cancelling the opposition. The result was a shoot-out that yielded a combined score total of 4-35 in a game that, pitifully, had an audience of less than three thousand.
Unless you’re a sporting agnostic you’ll have heard of the legendary Babe Ruth from the world of American baseball. The name has a biblical ring to it. I don’t know if Richie claims any lineage to the great American but he certainly created his own piece of legend with that goal as the game faded into added time on Sunday. It may yet prove to be a pivotal moment in Sarsfields’ season.
Remember Thurles had coughed up a six point lead and the game was tied as we entered the three minutes of announced additional time. Richie has been a marginal player with the team but once more he was called upon as Jim Corbett tired in the second half. His moment of glory was created by a slick forward surge from the home team. A Mikey O’Brien pass played a role outfield and amazingly it was Michael Cahill who found himself bearing down on the Cork goal. A natural forward would have tried for a lead point but Cahill carried on before planting a pass in front of Ruth. From the tightest of angles in the left corner Ruth planted a precious goal past Alan Kennedy.
It was confidently executed and it was a match-settler. With renewed energy Thurles closed out the match in the subsequent minutes, first through an Aidan McCormack point and then a massive Johnny Enrich free.
It was certainly nerve-jangling at the finish but in fairness Thurles should have taken this tie more comfortably. They were the better side, their forward impact especially impressive with Pa Bourke and Aidan McCormack each shooting five points from play. The problem was they surrendered significant leads in each half and could never quite ‘bury’ the contest.
It was one of those free-flowing, swaying games that veered this way and that over the hour as each team enjoyed spells of dominance. The Cork champs got away to the brighter start with the two opening points but then Thurles settled and it was Lar who ignited the occasion with the first goal. It was a Lar special. Fielding a clearance out near midfield he took route one through the heart of the Glanmire defence. You sensed the rearguard was waiting for him to offload as Pa Bourke peeled away from his marker but Lar got within sight of the goal and unleashed an unstoppable shot to the net. It was a solo spectacular.
One sensed that the Thurles attack was capable of unlocking the Cork defence at will and Pa Bourke had a golden chance to plant another major but goalie, Alan Kennedy, made a fine save. Keep it lower might be the message for the forward. Indeed Pa was nearly in once more late in the half but referee Wadding penalised him for allegedly playing the opponent’s hurley as he made the aerial catch. It’s not the first time he’s been penalised for this manoeuvre so he needs to be more subtle. Watch how some of the Kilkenny guys disguise a similar action.
After Corbett’s goal it was the Cork side who found another gear to eventually go two-up after Eoin Quigley hit the Thurles net. Then the swaying continued as the home team hit a purple patch to reel off seven unanswered points, Pa Bourke and Aidan McCormack the principal marksmen. From five-up the Tipp champions eventually had to settle for three of an interval edge. It would have been parity but for a superb save by Patrick McCormack on the brink of half time. It was that type of breathless match with action galore.
And there was no let up in the second half. The third quarter belonged to Thurles as they eventually stretched the lead out to six. It might even have been better but for Pa Bourke skimming the wrong side of the crossbar on one menacing raid. The six-up mark was reached with the point of the match from Johnny Enright and at this stage you felt the home team was comfortable.
But, to quote the bard, ‘security is mortal’s chiefest enemy’ and just when Thurles might have begun to enjoy the journey they hit a major road block. It had an element of lucky break attached as the ball fell conveniently to Eoin Quigley inside the Thurles half backs and with acres of space in front of him. He made progress before firing past Patrick McCormack for a reviving Cork goal. That strike came around midway through the second half and revived the Cork champs who drove on to eventually tie up the match on Cian McCarthy frees. It was a difficult spell for Sarsfields as the likes of Corbett and Bourke faded somewhat and the Thurles defence came under strain.
Then, however, came that extraordinary finish with the Ruth goal and the clinching points as Thurles celebrated a cherished win. Not to be carried away, of course, it’s only a stepping stone with De Le Salle once again standing between the Tipp men and a coveted Munster title.
For the moment we’ll just relish another outstanding moment for Thurles. They’ve faced criticism in the past but thus far in this campaign they’ve shown commendable battling qualities. Padraic Maher once again took the TG4 man of the match award after another trademark swashbuckling performance at number six. He’s so central to the side that I pity Sarsfields the day he gets injured or suffers a slump in form.
Mind you he had a rival for the top accolade this time in Johnny Enright, the choice of some national dailies. There’s almost an element of romance about Johnny’s golden autumn to his career. Here’s a player in his mid thirties who battled for years as a forward with very mixed results. Now heading into his twilight hurling years he finds new expression as a midfielder. I think it’s the freedom of midfield that has reinvigorated his club career. His contribution was again crucial on Sunday, especially when Michael Gleeson was injured in the second half.
The forward strength of this Sarsfields side is a major reason for their progress. Most forward divisions have one or two main scoring threats but almost anybody in the Sarsfields’ attack can be a match winner on a given day. Lar Corbett and Pa Bourke are the leading personalities but Aidan McCormack has really matured in this campaign and Mikey O’Brien too can be very elusive even if he at times took the wrong options on Sunday. Denis Maher’s influence increased in the second half. Centre forward, Jim Corbett, won’t keep the umpires busy though I suspect he’s seen as useful for his battling qualities. Kevin Moran plays centre back for De Le Salle.
The defensive picture for Sarsfields is a bit more mixed. David Kennedy and Michael Cahill either side of Padraic Maher complete a formidable half line but they’ll continue to worry about a full line which conceded a lot of frees on Sunday.
I commented recently about the absence of county minors Stephen Cahill and Ronan Maher from the Sarsfields panel. Well, they’ve since been added with Cahill making a late appearance on Sunday for Michael O’Brien. Another aspect of the Sarsfields’ selection policy which I find baffling is how little play time is given to ‘Redser’ O’Grady.  He came on in the final ten minutes on Sunday and immediately landed a trademark point at a crucial juncture when the Cork champions were on a roll. Why he spends so much time warming the bench is a mystery.
Anyway Sarsfields are through and now have an opportunity to atone for what was a disastrous showing on the icy surface of Pairc Ui Chaoimh in 2010. It’s back to Cork now on Sunday week for a rematch with De Le Salle when hopefully conditions will be better.
Like Sarsfields, De Le Salle needed an injury-time goal to swing the outcome in their semi with Newmarket. The Waterford champs have an impressive, unbeaten record in this Munster club series and with a pair of Allstars in their ranks won’t make it easy for Thurles. It’s a long Munster campaign for the Tipp champs but if they can go into the festive season as provincial winners it will all have been worth the effort.
Looking further afield Ballyhale Shamrocks are prowling with menace once again after reclaiming the Kilkenny title. Shefflin, Fennellys et al grafted out a four point win over Dicksboro. They now face Oulart-the-Ballagh in the Leinster series.
There was an interesting Tipperary connection on the Dicksboro side with ex-Boherlahan and Tipperary player, Liam Maher, a selector on the team and his son playing in the forwards.
Finally in intermediate hurling Silvermines face Kerry champions, Ballyduff, in the provincial final on Saturday week at Semple Stadium. The Kerry seniors needed extra time to dismiss Ballybrown of Limerick in the semi-final last weekend. It will be a tough one for the Tipp champions.
P.S. Only 2,934 fans clicked through the turnstiles at Semple Stadium on Sunday. Two thoughts occur: firstly the fifteen euro admission charge was undoubtedly off putting for many and, secondly, Sarsfields deserve better backing from a town so steeped in hurling tradition.