Fixture chaos prevails in our U21 hurling championship. The Mid and West regions successfully put on their finals last Sunday but the North and South remain mired in controversy.
More about the wrangling anon, but first a word on the divisional finals that were played.
Boherlahan housed the Mid affair which developed into a spectacular second half master class by Thurles Sarsfields. On a cold and foggy day the first half was tight but the second turned into an exhibition by Sarsfields who won in the end by a whopping seventeen points.
As minors three years back Holycross won the Mid – beating Sarsfields coincidentally in the final – but there’s been quite a shift in power since. At a quick glance just eight of the Holycross minors who started the county final of 2013 lined out again on Sunday last. That’s quite a turnover, one which left this U21 team looking decidedly boyish. Injuries to key players like Jamie Woods and Conor Ryan compounded their problems.
Against them was a Sarsfields formation with a strong senior spine from Ronan Maher to Billy McCarthy to Conor Lanigan. Factor in Thurles intermediates then such as Jack Derby, Willie Tierney, Kevin Dunne, Cathal Moloney, Conor Stakelum and Seanie Butler and you have quite a potent mix.
In the words of a Holycross man after the match it was men against boys though in fairness to the boys they stood up manfully in the first half until eventually their will was broken and the second half became a Thurles procession.
That opening half was lively end-to-end fare with Holycross actually looking the niftier side in the initial quarter. Darragh Woods, Pauric Russell and Matty Stakelum all hit quality scores and it was nip-and-tuck with Sarsfields eventually taking a minimal lead to the break.
Thereafter, however, it tilted heavily towards the ‘Blues’ whose strength wore down the opposition. Ronan Maher was mopping up at half back (hit a super point too), Billy McCarthy was carrying forward through midfield and their sheer class in attack eventually took its toll on Holycross.
As a contest it petered out but you could always enjoy the sheer elegance of the winners. Several of their scores had class stamped on them with the likes of Conor Lanigan, Conor Stakelum, Rory Purcell and Kevin Dunne among the eye-catching shooters.
2-28 is a phenomenal score in November hurling, just a point short of our All Ireland senior total and remember that was a seventy minute game in September. It was certainly a bold statement by Sarsfields who are reigning county champions and will take some stopping now.
In the semi-final next weekend they’ll face West champions, Sean Treacys/Cappawhite, following the latter’s convincing dismissal of Golden in their divisional final last Sunday at Cashel. The combo (two-thirds Sean Treacys) were fancied heading into this game but took some time to close out the deal in a competitive match. Golden/Kilfeacle certainly took the fight to their opponents and led for a spell in the opening period following a smashing goal by Seanie O’Halloran. Riain Doody was doing some of the best hurling for the combo at this time though he managed to send a ‘penalty’ wide.
Full forward, Tim Meagher, was proving a handful for the Golden rearguard and he eventually hit the net to set up a modest interval lead 1-6 to 1-4. A string of bad wides by the combination prevented a wider margin in that opening spell.
If the game was tight at half time then the day’s fate was signposted dramatically in the opening seconds of the second period. From the throw-in Seanie Ryan (Rogers), quiet up to this point, scorched through the Golden defence to plant an excellent goal. It was a sucker-punch which Golden never recovered from.
As the second half unfolded full forward, Tim Meagher, continued to torture the Golden defence. He eventually completed his hat-trick of goals to push the lead out to uncatchable levels. In fairness to Golden they kept up the battle and exposed some shortcomings in the combo defence with two more goals of their own – Daniel Currivan and Jack Fogarty the scorers. However at that stage it was damage limitation.
The combo could afford to squander a second ‘penalty’ when Riain Doody’s shot was saved this time by Shane Stapleton and then a moment of rashness near the end cost them with Robbie Quirke getting a red card which will keep him out of the county semi.
Overall it was an impressive win by the combo who were retaining a title captured last year. A forward line that manages 4-14 can feel happy with their day’s work, though Sarsfields won’t be as accommodating. Riain Doody showed some classy touches and the likes of Patrick Carey and Darragh Kennedy looked useful in that attack also beside hat-trick hero, Tim Meagher. They’ll need to be more economical the next day, however.
Seanie Ryan, likely to be in Michael Ryan’s plans again this winter, will need to have a stronger impact in the semi. Wing back, Michael Feehan, look useful. They’ll be rank outsiders against Sarsfields, which is no reason not to give it a lash.
For Golden there was no shortage of effort, which wasn’t enough against a superior hurling side. Josh Keane had a few drives for goal batted away but significantly they failed to point from play in the second half. Golden’s only win in this grade was back in 1998 when Ger Looby was captain and David Fogarty played a stormer as they defeated Toomevara in the county final.
So, Sarsfields and Treacys/Cappawhite play a county semi-final next weekend but will there be a second semi? Neither North nor South is ready for action so this saga could play out more in the boardroom than on the playing field. The South has nominated Swans to represent the division but at writing time the suggesting seems to be that the North will not supply an opponent.
It’s a farcical situation. I was reading Martin Breheny in the ‘Indo’ last Saturday where he catalogued various fixture rows throughout the country where boards are having problems completing their schedules. He instanced examples from Kerry, Down, Meath and Roscommon and could easily have included the Tipperary U21 saga.
Up in the North division problems arose over the Halloween weekend when Newport were scheduled to play U21 on Saturday, again on Bank Holiday Monday and then their intermediates were ‘out’ against Lismore the following Saturday. Given a significant overlap between their U21 and intermediate sides they refused to play the underage game on Monday.
When their U21 side was ejected from the championship for failing to fulfill that fixture they appealed and won their case on a rather spurious basis of ‘perception of bias’. That seems to me to be one of these catch-all phrases that in a tight-knit GAA community you could apply to any situation.
Anyway Newport were back in the championship and played last week where they were beaten for the second time by Kilruane. Losing by ten points didn’t offer much moral justification for the hassle of an appeal process but they seemed determined to exit on the playing field rather than the board room.
All of this has delayed the North championship where semi-finals involving Kilruane/Roscrea and Toomevara/Borrisoleigh have yet to be played. I’m told that when Newport were still in the race the five teams voted three/two against nominating a side for the county semi-final, though I would assume that’s a board function rather than a select group of teams.
Anyway as I write the feeling is that the North will not supply a team for the county semi next weekend and where that takes us I’m not sure.
The South at least has nominated a team to advance to the semis as they did at minor level though I suspect their saga won’t end there. Killenaule were peeved by being overlooked for the minor nomination and again they’re at the heart of this dispute. They failed to fulfill their fixture with Carrick Swans but won their appeal against being tossed out of the championship. St. Mary’s were waiting in the final but now the division appears to have nominated Swans to progress.
The whole series has descended into farce at this stage, which is a shame given the fact that U21 hurling is a highlight grade that provides superb entertainment. There were echoes of this carry on back last August. When our senior footballers qualified for the All-Ireland semi-final a number of intermediate hurling games were fixed for a fortnight ahead of the Mayo game. Football panelists who were involved refused to play, their clubs supported them and ultimately the Boards backed down.
It was a very dangerous precedent; though imagine the lynch mob that would be out if you dared saw a word against them at the time. Actually I was reminded at the weekend that some of our senior hurlers played club games a fortnight before the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway. Why not?
All of this is a damning indictment on how our games are organized. Anyway let’s see how it plays out.