At a time when Santa is busy packing his goodies the Tipperary club championships are still in full flow. In football the senior decider is down for next Sunday while another draw has held up the intermediate grade. In U21 hurling Kildangan are safely through to the final after beating Clonoulty but they may relax now and enjoy the festive season because the other side of the draw is hopelessly behind schedule.
We’ve been here before, of course, though this year appears to be one of the most chaotic for some time. Having missed Munster deadlines in three grades we’re still frantically trying to complete our club programmes in the deep depths of winter. For the average club player the GAA has become a winter pursuit.
All of this happens at a time when the Association prides itself on being progressive and professional about how it runs its affairs. And at one level the GAA is certainly managed in a very efficient way with full time secretaries and clerical staff. Indeed the inter-county panels have all the modern facilities one could wish for with dedicated back-up teams looking after their every need. That much is certainly modern.
However, it’s a two-tier Association where the club is the poor relation which has to take the crumbs from the table of the inter-county master. The club scene has to find space wherever the inter-county fare allows. Thus 2014 was a particularly problematic year for Tipperary because of that All Ireland replay.
After the drawn All Ireland divisional finals were immediately cancelled so we had three weeks of inactivity awaiting the replay. Interestingly Kieran Bergin now suggests that those games should have been played and would have helped preparations during that long hiatus. That’s with the value of hindsight. It would have been heresy to suggest playing those club matches at the time. Indeed, didn’t Kieran’s club mate, Pat Kerwick, argue for the cancellation of club matches after the All Ireland semi-final win over Cork?
What’s perhaps most depressing about the dysfunctional nature of our club activity is the sense of weary acceptance that it will always be thus. There seems to be neither the will nor the way to change things so we’ll just plod along and think we’re doing a great job.
Anyway I better move on to hurling though I did see some football action also at the weekend just to show my ecumenical side! I saw the Gaels from Aherlow and Lattin come up short against Loughmore in one of the football semis. Two early goals from John McGrath set the bar for the West side and they could never quite get over it. It was a game the West could have won, though. Outfield they certainly had ample possession but when they got into that final third of the pitch they just couldn’t work the crucial openings. A few bad wides cost them before the Mid side closed out the game with a late goal. The loss of Cathal Dillon to a black card was unhelpful, though Loughmore also lost Evan Sweeney.
It was a bad day for the West generally with Clonoulty’s U21 hurlers going out to North champions, Kildangan, in a semi-final that was played in the Ragg. This was quite an exciting contest despite the heavy conditions with the winners coming from behind in the second half to march on to the decider.
Clonoulty got an ideal start going four-nil ahead in the opening ten minutes or so. Some excellent free taking from Conor Hammersley was part of the recipe but as the half wore on they could be grateful for three goal misses by Kildangan. The North champs were slow to settle into the game and most of the first quarter was over before Tadhg Gallagher had their opening point.
It was a lively contest with no shortage of endeavour and some fine individual items of skill. Clonoulty took a four point lead to the break but got hit by a Kildangan goal immediately on resuming. Willie Connors, Kildangan’s best player, planted that goal and the game remained in the balance before the Northerners hit their second major of the day. This time a fine combination move from out on the right wing ended with full forward, Paul Flynn, supplying the finish.
It looked as if the North side would ease away to a comfortable win but then a goaled twenty metre free by Sean Meagher revived Clonoulty’s effort. The lead was back to a single point but instantly on the puck-out Tadhg Gallagher planted the point of the game from out on the left flank. It was a superb score and returned the initiative to Kildangan who then held firm to the end.
Interestingly Kildangan had a panel of just eighteen players so it’s very much a case of quality over quantity. From the outside it seems to be a club that’s doing its business efficiently and is certainly making waves. They were part of a Naomh Padraig combination with Burgess, which took county honours in the grade back in 1970 and 1971. Of course their seniors have won North titles in 2008 and 2013 so things are certainly happening for the club at present.
They look quite an even side playing some nice combination hurling on Sunday. They certainly had too much for Clonoulty who were more dependent on a few key individuals to carry their cause. Sean Meagher battled vigorously as usual and Conor Hammersley and Kieran Quirke were impressive but they didn’t have the overall balance of the winners.
Kildangan will presumably have to wait until the New Year now for a final. Loughmore are holding up the Mid with Sarsfields waiting for them in the final and down South they’re still only at semi-final stage. Interestingly 2011 county minor champs, Mullinahone, are out of the race after last week’s draw with Ballingarry. The South semis feature Kilsheelan/Kilcash against St. Mary’s and Ballinagarry facing Swans.
One parting word on last Sunday’s semi-final at the Ragg. Remember the controversy last year over a referee cancelling a crucial free in the county minor final because a dry ball was tossed in from the sideline. We established then that there is no such rule in the book. Well, it happened again on Sunday, though this time the decision was not match-deciding and in fairness the referee overall was quite good. Still, will somebody please tell referees that this imaginary rule doesn’t exist.
Meanwhile the County Convention sits as I write. Michael Bourke, Upperchurch, takes over from Sean Nugent as the ‘Cathaoirleach’, having served his stint as number two. My neighbour, John Devane, is unopposed for the vice-chair so the Mid looks set to dominate the top position unless a rival candidate emerges in the next few years. There was a time when all these positions were vigorously contested but that was a different era.
Incidentally the convention handbook, which I’m grateful for receiving, is another fine production, one that will make life very easy for future researchers trying to trace the year now passing. All the major events are recorded in great detail together with appropriate commentary.
County secretary, Tim Floyd, has done another extensive job with his report including a brief recall of the various famines that have afflicted our senior hurlers over the decades. He concludes that we’re now in a far healthier state than in any of the previous famine periods. We’ll hope his right on that one.
One mild surprise for me in the report was the fact that there wasn’t a more robust defence of our senior hurlers after the heavy criticism they took mid-summer. There’s plenty of defensive detail relating to Moyne’s exclusion from the Munster intermediate championship but not much for hurlers who I’m sure are still feeling bruised by events last June.
P.S. A few errata from last week which need correction. Roscrea’s inaugural All Ireland club final win was for the 1970 championship, though the final was played in December 1971. Toomevara played in the 1994 All Ireland final in which Pat Meagher was sent off. Such careless slips irritate the hell out of me – and keep Seamus O’Doherty awake at night. God be with the old pre-email days when you could blame the type setter.