What’s rare is wonderful. Ask St. Mary’s, Clonmel, who are this week celebrating a famous win. In a gripping contest at the Ragg last Saturday they held off a second half rally from favourites, Kildangan, to bring a first ever county minor hurling title to the town.
It was an emotional occasion as the South side claimed their place in history. There are plenty of football medals on Clonmel sideboards but these hurling ones will be especially prized. It was a gutsy win achieved in a climactic finish. A Billy Seymour point drew Kildangan level with around five minutes to play and it really was a hectic finish from there to the end. Mary’s needed nerve and composure as the battle peaked. Eventually it was substitute Ryan Lamb who swung over the lead point and then the Mary’s defence had to survive a few scary moments before Michael O’Reilly landed the clinching goal deep into added time.
St. Mary’s fully deserved it after leading most of the way. They got off to a flier in the opening minutes when Michael O’Reilly raided down the right flank. His cross found Kyle Farrell who supplied the finish to give the Clonmel side instant encouragement. That goal would essentially be the first half difference between the teams.
In the heavy conditions it developed into a dogged battle. Kildangans’ dozen first half wides will make for sad reading up North on a day when every score was hard earned. Mary’s were more economical. Matt Barlow, their semi-final hero, hit three first half points and Conor O’Sullivan added another pair as they led by two at the interval.
What looked like a critical moment came early in the second half when Mary’s were awarded a penalty after Matt Barlow was fouled. Ross Peters tried to place the shot to the right of the goalie but Barry Hogan made a great save between the Kildangan posts. The lead was three points at that stage and boosted by that let-off Kildangan drove forward to eventually level the match.
Going into the final minutes Kildangan seemed to have the necessary impetus but this is one spirited Mary’s outfit. Like in the semi-final against Clonoulty they refused to be unnerved and contested everything tigerishly. Their goalmouth survived a few heart-stopping scares where Kyle Peters especially at number three was heroic. Their line stayed intact. In the end they simply wouldn’t be denied.
It’s a famous one and coupled with Moyle Rovers’ success last year projects a healthy image of underage hurling in the Clonmel area; when you add in Mullinahone’s win in 2011 it means three of the last five minor titles have gone South.
This was a victory for both heart and head; they had passion in abundance but also the levelheadedness to do the right thing at critical moments. Man of the match was surely full back, Kyle Peters, who gave an exhibition of sheer defiance. His cousin, Ross, a son of Willie who won an All Ireland minor medal in 1980, was also crucial to the outcome. Indeed the Peters clan had another rep in corner back, Adam, who too played his part.
The display of Gavin Ryan at half back was significant also; he’s a son of Jimmy who won an All Ireland Under 21 in 1979. Michael O’Reilly’s role in both goals was crucial and Jack Kennedy was a very effective fetcher and forager at midfield – what a year it’s been for this lad with his dual involvement. I liked the play of Conor O’Sullivan too and Matt Barlow had a ferocious tussle with Kildangan’s county minor, James Quigley. The Mary’s man ended with four points to his credit. You could also highlight other individual inputs such as Josh Ryan at wing back and Ryan Lamb who hit two crucial points but individual exploits apart it was the collective more than anything which won the day for Mary’s.
It’s a memorable one for a club that’s been bravely championing hurling in a staunchly football district. I noticed the many twitter tributes to the guiding role of John Carew within the club – sure he comes from good West Tipp stock! I’m particularly delighted for people like Jimmy Collins and Billy Carroll who’ve been crusaders in the Mary’s cause for many decades now. Noel Buckley and the club can take a bow for seeing years of promotion finally win its reward. Hopefully it will guide the club back to senior status in the coming years.
A disappointing footnote on the game relates to Kildangan and an apparent clash with Nenagh CBS over player availability. The school lost a Harty Cup tie to St. Colman’s Fermoy last Wednesday when they had to play without some of these Kildangan players. The club it seems was unwilling to risk the players three days ahead of a county final.
In a compromise it seems that goalie, Barry Hogan, was allowed play in the Harty match and I note in the match reports on the game that James Quigley came on as a substitute. Nenagh lost the game and now need to beat Thurles CBS by at least eight points in order to stay in the competition.
Critics of Kildangan will see a certain poetic justice then in the county final outcome though I’m sure the club will argue its side of the case vigorously as well. They might like to note that six of the St. Mary’s team lined out against Castletroy in the Harty Cup on the same Wednesday – and two more were introduced as substitutes. No further elaboration needed. Through it all my sympathies are with the players who are caught in this bind between club and school. They should never be in that predicament. Hopefully lessons will be learned.
Meanwhile it may be the ‘closed’ season for Tipperary’s hurlers but there’s no shortage of headline material with all these retirements. The ink wasn’t dry on last week’s column when Shane McGrath headed for the departure lounge and a few days later he was joined by Lar Corbett. It’s beginning to look more like a changing of the guard.
I don’t share some people’s glee at these retirements. There were certainly elements of Lar Corbett’s fifteen-year tenure that were a distraction but people have very short memories if they forget the positives. His fingerprints are all over 2010 from the winning point against Galway to the three goals in the All Ireland. It’s one we wouldn’t have got without him and imagine how bleak the horizon would be without that stand-out season.
At his best Lar had something really special. I remember Nicky English’s almost boyish excitement when he discovered Lar. It was the pace, the touch and the nose for goal that set him apart and to his credit English immediately spotted the potential. In full flight Lar lit up a match and many of his goals were highlight moments from the past fifteen years.
Here’s something else people need to remember: last August Lar was one brilliant save away from being the hero. He brought colour and excitement to the scene and hurling is poorer for his departure. Shane McGrath too forged a memorable career. Like Lar he missed out on the minor grade – or rather the minors missed out on him. He played at intermediate in ’03 and graduated to Under 21 for ‘04/’05 and then senior in ’06.
Again he had that capacity to lift the crowd with one of those solos. He successfully shared midfield duties for many seasons with James Woodlock. People sometimes forget that midfield is a wide area and it’s often difficult to sustain an impact over the seventy minutes. Shane tended to do it in characteristic bursts.
At the beginning of ’14 many people were ready to write his hurling obituary and just as well that they didn’t because by the end of the season he’d won his second All Star. Perhaps he might have had a role as an impact sub next year but the new order has decreed otherwise.
The choreography of these withdrawals would suggest a managerial input. If people wanted change they’ve certainly got it and it will be interesting to see the full list of newcomers who’ve joined the panel. Clonmel’s Seamus Kennedy has announced his intention to focus on hurling in 2016 and Steven O’Brien is expected to follow suit. That will be good news for the hurling side though very unwelcome for Liam Kearns and the footballers who have already lost Colin O’Riordan.
Losing a quartet of players, all of whom saw action last August, reads like a clean-out in the hurling camp. Finding replacements is now the problem.