It was a county final that promised but didn’t deliver. Sarsfields hit the right notes from the off and won this one in a canter.
We expected more. Loughmore may have been outsiders but as reigning champions and a club of known pedigree we expected their battling qualities to test Sarsfields. Sadly it never happened and the paltry attendance of less than six thousand got poor value.
Often the key to upsetting a team like Sarsfields is to make a few early lodgements in the account and ruffle their composure. Instead we had Denis Maher sweeping over a superb point in the very first minute and that set an instant trend. They had five on the board before Loughmore could retaliate and by then events were signposted towards an inevitable outcome.
Sarsfields were smooth and silky in their movement and striking which left Loughmore chasing shadows all day. Denis Maher’s four first-half points led the charge but it was a day when Sarsfields’ attack in particular rose to the occasion. Lar was busy orchestrating matters and with scores coming from multiple sources it was difficult for Loughmore to stanch the flow.
Part of the problem for the outgoing champions was that their key man, Noel McGrath, was superbly shackled by Ronan Maher. Last year McGrath was the chief mover against Nenagh but this time he was anonymous, failing to raise a flag from play.
Loughmore were chasing scraps. Luckily for the game they got a break after twenty minutes when Liam McGrath availed of defensive dithering to whip in a goal that kept their chances alive. They were still only four down at the break but those maths really didn’t tell the story of the first half.
Within minutes of resuming the game had drifted irretrievably beyond Loughmore. Another Denis Maher point was followed by a Mikey O’Brien goal after a Pa Bourke shot from outfield came back off the post and suddenly the gap had doubled to eight points. Game over.
At this stage one sensed that Sars’ could run in several goals because they seemed to be splitting the Loughmore defence at will. Lar set up Mikey O’Brien for what should have been another goal but the corner forward fumbled and the chance was gone.
Goals would save Loughmore’s blushes in this game. Around ten minutes into the second half John McGrath somehow seemed to walk the ball into the Sarsfields’ net and they had another consolation one near the end with a fine strike from Evan Sweeney. In between, however, Lar set up Pa Bourke for another major and super sub Richie Ruth came in to land four amazing points on a day Loughmore will want to forget.
So, Sarsfields are undeniably our top club and we’ll hope they carry that banner with distinction next Sunday at Ennis against Cratloe. Their defence is formidable with Ronan Maher playing a major man-marking role on Sunday. Mickey Cahill was powerful too, though a few uncharacteristic slips were costly. Michael Gleeson had one of his best days, especially in the first half.
Against that they’ll be concerned about leaking three goals on a day they were well on top and remember goalie, Patrick McCormack, made a few top class saves also so the damage could have been worse.
I liked the midfield pair, especially the man-of-the-match contribution of Stephen Cahill. Their attack has been criticised in the past but this time they certainly delivered, particularly Denis Maher, Lar Corbett and Aidan McCormack. Richie Ruth will surely see action next Sunday at some stage.
For Loughmore it was a disappointing surrender of their crown. In hindsight their path to the final saw them avoid most of the main contenders and against Sarsfields they were simply out-classed.
Sarsfields have little time now to celebrate another Dan Breen win as they prepare for next Sunday’s Munster semi-final clash with Clare champs, Cratloe. The game is fixed for Ennis and represents a stiff challenge for the Tipp men against the dual-champions from the Banner.
That Sarsfields defence will face a testing afternoon against an attack that includes Clare players such as Conor McGrath, Podge Collins and Cathal McInerney. Back in defence you have Conor Ryan, man-of-the-match in the Clare final.
The bookies have made Sarsfields favourites though in a novel pairing like this there’s always an element of uncertainty as to how things will pan out. For Sarsfields winning county finals should no longer be an end-game. In a club with thirty-three county titles the only thing that will enable the present generation to stand apart is an All Ireland.
In the intermediate game on Sunday there was no double for the ‘Blues’ of Thurles who couldn’t repeat their Mid final win over Moyne/Templetuohy. Once again it was a comprehensive verdict here; the gap was seven at the break and eleven by the end as Moyne regained their long-lost senior status. The loss of players to the senior team during the year probably cost Sars’ in this one though neutrals will be happy for Moyne who’ve been so close in the past.
Finally the reappointment of Eamon O’Shea as manager has met with widespread approval – even relief in some quarters. The addition of Declan Fanning to the management ticket has been broadly welcomed too. However, Michael Ryan’s appointment as O’Shea’s successor has brought a more mixed reaction.
O’Shea’s retention is undeniably a good news story for Tipperary hurling. Ultimately his 2014 mission failed but there is the sense of a team being developed and brought to the brink of glory after a year of some turmoil. The prospect of trawling for a successor through these winter months was unappealing, so his re-appointment offers continuity and a sense of there being unfinished business down the line.
Declan Fanning’s elevation too is seen as a welcome development. Like O’Shea he commands huge respect among the players, something which was recognised in his playing days when he was made vice-captain. He’ll add another voice to the dressing room and hopefully will aid decision making also, because that was an area that drew deserved criticism during the past season.
There’s less consensus, however, on the nomination of Michael Ryan as O’Shea’s successor this time next year. Why the haste in making the next managerial appointment a fait accompli a year in advance? He could have been informally groomed for the position without making any definite appointment at this stage.
Martin Breheny in the ‘Indo’ was the first to highlight Tipperary’s unprecedented move and to question its wisdom. He has a point, even if his article used a rather dubious analogy from soccer. What if the 2015 season is a flop? Michael Ryan will be tarnished by association and then expected to offer a new dawn. Sports management is a fickle business and trying to inject future certainty carries major, and in this case unnecessary, risks.
Others have wondered if the rush to fast-track Michael Ryan trumped any deep reflection on the suitability of the ‘Church man for the job. In his present capacity he’s seen as a very passionate, hard-working and valuable member of the management committee but some wonder if his approach is nuanced enough for the tricky role of manager. Part of the issue is that he has no past record as manager.
Everything considered last week’s appointment seems both hasty and unwise.