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Cumann Lúthchleas Gael Thiobraid Árann

Westside column – December 15th 2016

December 15th, 2016

The dominance of Thurles Sarsfields in Tipperary hurling gained further emphasis on Sunday last when their U21s claimed a fourth county crown in five seasons.

Toomevara’s courageous bid to upset the odds was luckless. Missed goal opportunities undid their effort against a slicker Sarsfields.

Bright December sunshine and a dew-carpeted surface provided an unseasonal, yet pleasant, setting at the Ragg for the last major hurling final of the year. In contrast to the paltry few who watched the inter-provincial caper at the Stadium, a large following turned up for this club final. U21, despite its critics, remains a popular grade.

Sarsfields were heavy favourites against the North division’s nominees. Toomevara’s selection as divisional reps has been controversial, the Board’s chairman taking some flak for making it a personal prerogative. Kilruane have been praised for not pushing their annoyance further than a boardroom statement of disappointment at the decision.

There’s plenty of history between Toomevara and Sarsfields so there was an expectation that this final might not be as clear cut as some expected. And so it turned out. Sarsfields looked the smoother operators for much of the opening half and yet the teams were level at the interval.

They exchanged goals early on, Paul Ryan finishing sweetly for Toomevara and Faolain Linnane responding for Thurles. Thereafter Sarsfields seemed the snappier side in attack and their flow of points put them in control.

However, Toomevara struck late in the half with a fine Alan Ryan goal and then a leveling free from Jason Ryan. The momentum was with the North as they traipsed off for the interval.

It get even better for Toome’ in the early stages of the second spell. They went two-up at one stage so this was really throwing down the gauntlet in earnest. In hindsight Tommy Dunne and his colleagues will wince at missed opportunities. Both Mark McCarthy and Alan Ryan had open goal chances but were denied by goalie, Willie Tierney, and corner back, Paul Sammon. Had one, or both, gone in then we’d surely have been set for a fascinating final quarter.

Ultimately a batted Conor Stakelum goal midway through the second half proved crucial (earlier he’d brought a fine save from Mark Grace). Sarsfields were three-up at a critical juncture and they played out the final phase comfortably to win by five.

It’s a fourth county U21 in five years for Thurles – Loughmore interrupted their run in 2014. That means that Ronan Maher has four county medals in the grade. Is that a record? Possibly not: Kilruane won four on the trot from 1973 to 1976 and Nenagh did likewise from 1979 to 1982 so perhaps they have players with the same haul of medals. I’m sure someone will supply enlightenment.

An indication of Sarsfields’ progress in recent years is the fact that their 2013 U21 winning panel was the only one in recent times which also won at minor level. They’re developing later, or perhaps the senior success is providing the rising tide that’s lifting all grades.

Ronan Maher has been the stand-out player throughout this campaign though perhaps slightly less prominent on Sunday last. Toome’ did quite an effective job of curtailing his influence though he still managed some telling contributions.

I think Conor Stakelum is one to watch from this group; he was their leading forward on Sunday.
Toomevara have slipped from their preeminence of past decades though still very competitive at many levels. They haven’t won a county minor ‘A’ title since 1997; 1998 was their last win in the North. Similarly at U21 2005 was the last time they won North and county titles. Jason Ryan is their brightest prospect in this year’s group.

There was a time when conventions were spicey events in the GAA calendar with elections, canvassing and plenty of disputed issues arousing public interest. Not anymore. Nowadays they tend to be mere formalities with very little ‘juicy’ material on offer.

I can’t see the county gathering this Friday breaking that modern trend. All the principal office holders are returned unopposed and there’s not a lot in the motions section either.

As usual Timmy Floyd has produced a very thorough account of the year’s events as well as some interesting commentary. It’s his tenth such report and probably one of the most pleasant for the Newport man who saw his own club return to senior ranks and the county regain the hurling pinnacle.
Interestingly on the issue of club fixtures he suggests inter-county leagues be organized by Munster Council. As back-up evidence he cites his native Newport who this year played a dozen challenge games with clubs from other counties. Tim reckons these matches were crucial in steeling the team for their championship push and he sees it as a recipe for other clubs to follow.

I suppose the issue is whether other clubs would buy into such organized competitions when past evidence has shown very little appetite for our own county leagues.

The county secretary also has interesting comments on the IRFU bid for the 2023 rugby world cup and the exclusion of Semple Stadium which aroused some annoyance locally. Timmy suggests that the Stadium’s large capacity – ironically – as well as the fact that Thurles is in a non-traditional tourist area were negative factors with the bidding committee.

He’s probably correct and he’s certainly on the button when highlighting the irony involved in this issue. Remember the opposition to opening up Croke Park to soccer and rugby when Lansdowne Road was being developed? I sat at conventions listening to silly old blather about the GAA having forgotten our patriot dead etc. etc. Now we’re offended if Semple Stadium is not included in a bid for a rugby tournament. How the world changes!

On the motions front the one that caught my eye is a silly one from the Upperchurch/Drombane club. It wants the Board to “facilitate and support playing members being offered the opportunity to participate at all levels in the full range of Gaelic Games available to them, particularly in underage competition”.

Let me translate that for those who are confused. It’s a dig at Liam Cahill and his management team for having the audacity this year to insist on their minor panelists concentrating on hurling alone. The good people of Upperchurch and Drombane, it seems, want a return to the madness of 2015 when talented lads tried to play everything and excelled at nothing.

Players in this county already have the opportunity to participate in the full range of Gaelic Games but, like athletes everywhere, they have to make choices if they are to excel at one sport. It’s a nonsense motion but it’s part of a whinge culture that exists in one section of the GAA community in Tipperary. The authors of the above motion should listen to people like football selector Shane Stapleton who recently in interview urged the football people to stop complaining and get on with the job. No self-respecting management committee will allow itself to be tied by a dictat concerning who they should select. They are appointed to do a job so let them at it.

Our GAA world was saddened last week by the passing of a much-revered hurler and Tipperary legend, Mick Roche. I was lucky to have seen him in action and can fully appreciate the huge regard in which he was held.

After his retirement in 1974 we spent decades bemoaning the lack of a stand-out centre back in Tipperary; stop-gap number sixes became the norm. The irony is that Roche himself preferred midfield where he mostly played in the sixties. Indeed in the 1971 All Ireland his switch to midfield and the redeployment of Noel O’Dwyer to half back was seen as crucial in that win over Kilkenny.

In a more robust age he was a truly elegant hurler with that lazy-looking, languid style. He seemed to have it all as a player, his ground hurling a highlight feature in an age when that skill was more acknowledged. In a pre-helmet age he made hairnets fashionable too.

There’s no doubt he was one of the greats. In later life he could very honestly compare the hurling of his era with the modern game and do it without the sentimentality that others often employ. He wasn’t a great one for winter training so I can imagine he’d find that aspect of the modern game challenging.
Together with P.J. Ryan he spearheaded a great era for Carrick Davins. His place in our hurling annals is assured. Peaceful rest to his soul and our sympathies to the bereaved.

Finally I’m happy to mention the Tipperary Supporters Club and their 2017 membership which is now due. A special DVD of the All Ireland final is an un-missable members’ gift this year. People can join on line at www.tippsupportersclub.com, in the GAA shop at Lar Na Pairce or by sending a cheque or postal order for €40 to Jim Reidy, 13 Castleknock Close, Dublin 15. Membership has never been more attractive.

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