Kilcormac chase one more first

Thurles Sarsfield 1-14 Kilcormac-Killoughey 1-20
The cartwheels performed in the middle of O’Moore Park on Saturday told you everything you needed to know.

The acrobat in question had a green and gold headband and was celebrating Kilcormac-Killoughey’s deserved win over favourites Thurles Sarsfields in a cracking All-Ireland club hurling semi-final at the Portlaoise venue.

A first county title, a first provincial title, a first St Patrick’s Day appointment in Croke Park.

It’s been some year for the Offaly men and their manager, Danny Owens.

“We knew we’d be up against a very good team, and they are a good team,” said Owens as he was congratulated by what looked like the entirepopulation of Kilcormac-Killoughey.

“But our lads are just relentless. They’re very fit, very determined, very focused and they have a lot of skill. When you have those attributes you’re always in with a chance.

“We knew if we got under their skins a bit we’d have a chance to maybe rattle them and get the better of them.”

The Offaly side played into the wind in the first half but theirs was the happier dressing room at the break. They held the Thurles attack for most of the first half and it was point for point — with Thurles relying largely on placed balls — until the 27th minute, when Pa Bourke struck for the game’s first goal, out-fielding Ger Healion and finishing well.

With the game edging into injury time, Kilcormac-Killoughey hit back, Daniel Currams making a lot of ground down the middle and staying calm to finish from the edge of the square to make it 1-8 to 1-7 at half time in his side’s favour.

Tipp style versus Offaly determination? Too simplistic, but the winners’ huge appetite for work was visible on the resumption: Ciarán Slevin’s free-taking helped Kilcormac-Killoughey to a five-point lead before a sluggish Thurles side responded, Bourke leading the charge.

Corbett did some damage at midfield and Bourke had a goal attempt from a close-in free turned away, but they couldn’t draw level.

When Kilcormac keeper Conor Slevin somehow kept out Richie Ruth’s goal-bound flick, the Offaly men got back in gear: Slevin’s brother Ciarán was unerring from placed balls and restored Kilcormac’s momentum, and a six-point win certainly didn’t flatter them.

“Momentum is a big catchword in rugby parlance at the moment,” said Thurles manager Seamus Quinn after he visited the winners’ dressing room. “When we got the goal in the first half they got a goal straight away, and that took from our momentum.

“We had two goal chances in the second half and if they had gone in it might have gone the other way. But they’re a fine team, they hurled well, are a tight-knit group — and you saw it there today, no little skill.

“I told them that we didn’t underestimate them for a second — it was a first time for us, a first time for them, we were going for the prize and fair dues to them, they took it.”

Owens was looking ahead to the All-Ireland final, suggesting Kilcormac-Killoughey will stick to a tried and trusted tactical approach: “We didn’t go out to man-mark them [Thurles]. We knew Lar [Corbett] would run all over the field, and for someone to run after him would be crazy, to give up a player on your team. So we played an orthodox back line, we didn’t pack our defence, we came out to go for the jugular and to try to win the game. There was going to be no packing the defence — we played our defence in position as much as we could and cut down on the space.

“It worked out on the day. Today was a good day and hopefully it’ll repeat itself in the All-Ireland club final.”

Scorers for Kilcormac-Killoughey: C Slevin 0-11 (8f, 1 65); D Currams 1-1; C Mahon and B Leonard (2f) 0-2 each; T Geraghty, P Geraghty, J Gorman and K Leonard 0-1 each.

Scorers for Thurles Sarsfields: P Bourke 1-5 (0-3f, 0-1 65); D Maher and J Enright (2 65) 0-2 each; M Gleeson, R Maher, A McCormack, R Ruth and M O’Brien 0-1 each.

KILCORMAC-KILLOUGHEY: Conor Slevin, J Grogan, G Healion, A McConville, K Grogan, P Healion, B Leonard, D Kilmartin, K Leonard, Ciaran Slevin, C Mahon, P Geraghty, J Gorman, D Currams, T Geraghty.

Sub: C Guinan for B Leonard (60).

THURLES SARSFIELDS: P McCormack, S Maher, K O’Gorman, David Maher, D Kennedy, P Maher, M Cahill, M Gleeson, J Enright, Denis Maher, J Corbett, L Corbett, R Ruth, P Bourke, A McCormack.

Subs: R Maher for Enright (38); G O’Grady for J Corbett (42); M O’Brien for Ruth (50).

Referee: C Lyons (Cork).

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