Toomevara 1-14 Mount Sion 1-13
By Diarmuid O'Flynn
IT was a cruel scene. Even before the final puck-out was taken in this AIB Munster Club SHC final yesterday, Ken McGrath was in distress, beating the Semple Stadium sod with his hurley.
Nine minutes into the second-half, against a Toomevara side that looked completely at odds with itself, Mount Sion, with McGrath hurling supremely, had taken what should have been a decisive seven-point lead.
But for the final 25 minutes of what became an increasingly-absorbing battle, Toomevara finally began to find their form, and Mount Sion were slowly but surely squeezed out of the frame.
Point by chiselled point, the resolute Tipperary champions fought back to within a goal, and were gifted that goal in the 57th minute by a goalkeeping blunder. They had gone on in the five remaining minutes to create five clear point-scoring chances, failing each time in the face of some desperate Mount Sion defence. Finally however, in the second minute of injury-time, Toomevara got the critical score, two subs, Bryan Duff with the delivery, John O'Brien with the finish.
But, with seconds left on the clock, there was still time for one final gripping act.
Ken McGrath won a free from a puck out. Referee Kirwan, who had a very impressive outing, was adamant, took exception to the questioning of his decision, and moved the ball forward. Free then, about 55 yards, dead centre but not a gimme.
As McGrath bent, took the stroke, the thousands who had travelled from Mount Sion were joined in prayer by the thousands more neutrals in the near 8,000 crowd; a point, a draw, a welcome replay.
Ken missed. By a whisker, close enough to be contested, which he did, but only half-heartedly, and not for long. Before the resultant puck-out was taken then, he knew that Mount Sion's quest for All-Ireland glory, was over.
Then came the ironic announcement: "your AIB man-of-the-match for today is Ken McGrath." So he was, by a street, but that will never be consolation.
History will record that the goalkeeping error and that missed free cost Mount Sion this match, or at least a second chance. History will never be so wrong. Mount Sion lost this game because they met a superior force. Throughout a tit-for-tat first half in which the sides were level on five occasions, neither side really dominated, so Mount Sion's four-point interval lead (1-9 to 0-8, the goal from a Ken McGrath penalty special) gave something of a false impression.
Even as Mount Sion went on to increase that half-time lead to seven points, Toomevara were still very much in the game. They were their own worst enemies, however.
"We were over-anxious," wing-back Terry Dunne explained. "It took us a while to get going, but once we did, once we started to hurl, we did better. We said going out, if they're a better team, then let them beat us. They didn't, we just got there in the end."
Just got there, but there should never have been any need for any of that ultra-late drama. Only one side really dominated the other for a sustained period in this game, and that was Toomevara, for the final 25 minutes.
Where Mount Sion had the magnificent McGrath, the sublime Tony Browne at centre-back, the phenomenal running and support play of Eoin McGrath between the 45's, the first-half finishing of Eoin Kelly, Toomevara had balance and strength in every line, in almost every position, even on the bench, with subs Duff and O'Brien playing a major part.
"Any time you're on the sideline it's torture, but this is exceptional," said O'Brien. "The boys have been playing well all year, so I can only sit back and wait for my chance to come. You don't really feel a part of it in those circumstances so it's always good to get in. Then, watching all those chances tailing off, more agony; but to score the winning point, fantastic."
Forget that goal, cancelled anyway by a superb save made by O'Regan in 42nd minute, forget that free; in those final 25 minutes, a significant period of dominance in any game, Toomevara seemed to outnumber Mount Sion two-to-one in every position, on every ball. That was the difference.
Scorers: Toomevara: W. Ryan 1-1; K. Dunne 0-4 (all frees); P. O'Brien 0-3 (0-1 free, 0-1 s/l); F. Devanney 0-2; Tommy Dunne 0-2; E. Brislane, J. O'Brien, 0-1 each. Mount Sion: K. McGrath 1-6 (all frees); E. Kelly 0-3; D. Kelly 0-2; S. Ryan, B. Greene, 0-1 each.
TOOMEVARA: J. Cottrell; J. Boland, T. Delaney, P. Shanahan; Terry Dunne, B. Dunne, D. Young; P. Hackett, E. Brislane; K. Dunne, F. Devanney, Tommy Dunne; M. Bevans, P. O'Brien (C), W. Ryan. Subs: B. Duff (Young 30); J. O'Brien (Bevans 52); D. Kelly (Ryan 60).
MOUNT SION: I. O'Regan; J. O'Meara, A. Kirwan (c), K. Flynn; B. Flannery, T. Browne, K. Stafford; K. McGrath, F. O'Shea; E. Kelly, E. McGrath, D. Kelly; B. Greene, R. McGrath, S. Ryan. Subs: J. Cleere (Stafford, inj. 15); B. Browne (R. McGrath 41). Blood sub: M. Frisby (E. McGrath 4/7; Greene 54/56).
Referee: D. Kirwan (Cork).