Cumann Lúthchleas Gael Thiobraid Árann

Westside column – November 21st 2015

November 19th, 2015

Tipperary’s poor club record remains after Sarsfields once again come up short in Munster. Na Piarsaigh’s second half carried the day to set up a final against Ballygunner on Sunday at the Stadium.

A disappointing, and emotional day then for our local champions whose fate mirrors that of the county team. All that undoubted skill is yielding a rich harvest of county titles but precious little beyond the border. This was always going to be one of those tough, fifty/fifty clashes where exertion on the day was vital. Sarsfields needed to step up on Tipperary form and they failed in that requirement.

It was tight and intriguing but a few turning points were crucial. A minute into added time in the first half Sarsfields worked a great goal chance. Stephen Cahill careered through the middle to split open the Limerick defence. He timed the lay-off to Corbett perfectly. However, Na Piarsaigh goalie, Podge Kennedy, dashed off his line and Corbett’s volley cannoned off the ‘keeper and over the bar. The Tipperary champions retired three-up instead of five and that difference was significant in the context of this game.

In fairness, though, Na Piarsaigh had the better goal chances in that half. The best of the lot was denied when Mickey Cahill executed a great hook on Peter Casey; in the follow up Patrick McCormack kept out a Shane Dowling effort.

The best of Sarsfields’ play was seen with wind backing in the opening half when their forwards popped some really sweet scores from outfield. Aidan McCormack hit three of them but Conor Lanigan and Pa Bourke were also on the mark. Afterwards Na Piarsaigh manager, Shane O’Neill, spoke of his defenders standing off their men and he had a point.

There was no standing off, however, in the second period and I thought Sarsfields were well mastered in this spell. Their much-praised forward division managed a meager two points from play in that second half and crucially never threatened a goal. A lack of physical technique was again evident on a day when their one robust player, Denis Maher, had to be substituted.

By contrast Na Piarsaigh upped the tempo and hit the vital scores. Peter Casey’s goal early in the second half was a critical item. There seemed to be little danger when the eighteen year old won possession on the end line but he’s deadly with ball in hand; in an eye-blink he had the sliotar in the net.

Briefly Sarsfields stayed in it, levelling twice, but the winning push came in the final ten minutes of the half. A great upfield dash by corner back, Mick Casey, set up David Dempsey for the second goal and at four-down there was going to be no salvation for the Tipperary champs.

It’s disappointing. When the game was in the melting pot in that second half Sarsfields were outplayed and there’s no denying the merit of Na Piarsaigh’s win. I thought the Sars’ full back line was in some difficulty all day so it was no surprise when those goals came in the second half. Padraig Maher did a lot of covering but Ronan had a quiet afternoon and David Kennedy was substituted. For some reason – injury perhaps – Stephen Cahill spent a lot of time in attack when he was needed outfield. The forwards don’t have the physical heft for this time of year and their second half return was miserable.

Na Piarsaigh are favourites for the final. Shane Dowling’s most significant input was from frees and Kevin Downes too had a quiet day in general play. It’s a tribute to their overall strength then that the rest of the side did the business with their marquee players subdued.

Elsewhere our new senior hurling management team will have to plan without two retirees. Conor O’Mahony’s curtain call was expected, James Woodlock’s perhaps less so. The two bow out after decade-long careers which overlapped almost to the year.

There was a time when we used to bemoan the lack of a stand-out centre back. Even in the revival years of the late eighties and early nineties we didn’t have a specialist centre back so people like Bobby Ryan and Colm Bonnar, to their credit, often filled the void.

Conor O’Mahony solved that particular problem when he hit the scene. He had the complete package for centre back: strong in the air, equally fluent off left or right, good anticipation, great balance and a steely toughness.
I love Eddie Brennan’s tweet during the week when he said O’Mahony had no reverse gear. I suspect that was one of his qualities that would have found special favour down Kilkenny way where they value unyielding defenders.

There certainly was no go-back with O’Mahony. I recall a league game some years back in Thurles when a young Galway sub came in and his calling card was to offer O’Mahony an instant dunt. I remember thinking he doesn’t know his opponent. O’Mahony was the one Tipperary player you didn’t try it on because whatever you gave you’d get it back in spades. And sure enough for the next five minutes or so this substitute got an education that I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten.

O’Mahony’s career peaked from ’08 to ’10. He won All Stars in ’08 and ’09 and was a crucial cog in the Tipperary team of that time. As a minor and U21 he enjoyed Munster success but no All Ireland. I’m not convinced that we got the most out of him in recent years. Injuries and in particular a back problem seems to have been an issue but I suspect he was under-utilised and drifted down the pecking order. When he came on last August against Galway he hit what seemed at the time to be a crucial point. He was always a big-match player. I rate him the best, the most complete Tipperary centre back I’ve seen. Ironically he retires at a time when we bemoan the shortage of players with that mix of style and steel; O’Mahony had them both in abundance.

James Woodlock’s career mostly mirrored that of O’Mahony. Being two years younger than the Newport man he followed at his heels in underage. ’05 was O’Mahony’s first year on the senior panel, Woodlock arrived in ’06. The Drom man was unlucky to miss out on 2010 because of that horrific leg break he suffered in ’09 against Sarsfields. It was the type of injury that would end many careers so it was a huge tribute to the man that he fought back to full fitness and got another five years of inter-county hurling.

I admire Woodlock for the manner in which he maximised the talents at his disposal. He was never regarded as a classic stickman but his energy, fitness and general work rate often compensated for shortcomings in the skills department. He’s an example to young players of how to get the most out of their talents.

At his best there was a tearaway excitement about his play that lifted the team. Remember his attacking runs into the Kilkenny defence down in Nowlan Park in 2013. At times the peripheral vision wasn’t great but he was never afraid to have a go.

I imagine he’ll still be a feature on Drom sides for many seasons. His sending off against Sarsfields last year was untypical and, on the day, very costly because Drom really had them on the rack. Anyway he goes out at the top rather than hanging on for a few years and possibly drifting down the pecking order. It will be interesting to see if any others follow in the coming weeks or months.

Finally three cheers for Eire Og Annacarty after an historic county final win in the junior ‘B’ grade. They topped Newport at the weekend to become the first West side to ever claim this particular prize. Okay it’s not a glamour grade but wins like this often provide more local cheer than senior success. Their team was a cocktail mix of elders and juniors. The daddy of the lot was John Quinn at fifty-one and still clipping over the points – he scored five in total. Beside him Damien O’Brien is only a slip of a lad in his mid thirties contributing 1-4 – Annacarty’s version of Tir na nOg. Well done.

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