HOW OFTEN do you see a top-class hurling match in which every starting forward on both sides scores from play?
In Toomevara’s case, throw in the half-back line, a midfielder for Nenagh, and that’s what a fine attendance of 8,500 witnessed in Semple Stadium yesterday, in a thrilling Tipperary SHC final.
Toomevara were hotly favoured to win their 10th title in 15 years but it was the challengers with the early charge, two points to the good within two minutes, courtesy of a towering free from his own 45 by centre-back and captain Richie Flannery and a quick-witted sideline by John Kennedy to Eddie Tucker, who notched the point.
Those scores set the tone for the first half, Nenagh looking much sharper. At the end of the first quarter they led 0-6 to 0-5; Kevin Tucker, John Kennedy and Paul Ryan with one each to add to the early Nenagh points, while Benny Dunne, David Young, Michael Bevans, John O’Brien and Kenny Dunne replied for Toomevara.
From the 16th to the 21st minutes, however, Nenagh hit a purple patch, 1-3 without reply. Their goal was scored by full-forward Noel Moloney who muscled his way in behind Tony Delaney to get on the end of a long John Kennedy centre.
Nenagh centre-forward Paul Ryan hit his second and third points from play in this period, with Toomevara keeping in touch through points from Kenny Dunne, Willie Ryan, Francis Devanney and a class strike from Tommy Dunne (now at full-forward and very effective too).
At that stage, it was the underdogs ahead by four points (1-10 to 0-9) while Toomevara were very much on the back foot. It was just about to get worse. In the 29th minute, pacy Nenagh wing-forward John Slattery took off up the right wing, made some great ground before laying off to sharpshooter Kevin Tucker. A point looked certain, but the veteran glanced to his left, spotted 16-year-old Michael Heffernan who shook the rigging. It was now 2-10 to 0-9 — a seven-point lead should that have signalled the beginning of the end for Toomevara but it didn’t — quite the reverse in fact.
The old reliables pulled back two points before the break; John O’Brien and Kenny Dunne with the crucial scores, making it a much more respectable – and surmountable – five point deficit.
"They got a fair dressing-down at half-time," said selector Roger Ryan (member of the great Roscrea teams of 1968-80 who were honoured at half-time). "The first half was like our full hour against Mullinahone, we never got out of the blocks, we never woke up. The amount of training we’ve done throughout the year wasn’t showing, but we came out in the second half a different team."
No question. Four points in the first five minutes of that half (two super long-range frees by Kenny Dunne) had it back to just a point; Kevin Tucker briefly stopped the rot for Nenagh with a pointed free but by the 42nd minute it was all square at 0-17 to 2-11. The equaliser was a booming strike from his own 65 on the right-hand touchline, by outstanding wing-back Terry Dunne. The Dunnes, in fact — all five brothers of them — were very prominent in this win, fore, aft and in the middle.
To their credit, and just as it looked like the game was gone, Nenagh made it interesting again, points from Paul Ryan and Kevin Tucker putting them back in the lead. With those scores Nenagh looked to have recovered, steadied the ship, were once again set fair, but man-of-the-match John O’Brien had other ideas. An injury doubt for the past two weeks, absent for most of this campaign, O’Brien had already made his presence felt with three good points to his credit.
Now, however, he was about to do more than just leave his mark — he was about to change the game. A soaring catch of a long James McGrath puck-out, was followed by a turn, a surge through the middle, a trademark dummy hand-pass to wrong-foot the last defender, inside the 20 metre line before scoring. Goal. It took until the 47th minute, but, for the first time in the game, Toomevara had their noses in front. It was 1-17 to 2-13, just a point in it, but that was it. For the remaining 12 minutes, plus two added on, there was only one team in it.
Four more points, two from the stick of Kenny Dunne, and Toomevara were back at the top in Tipp.
"There’s a lot more in this team," says selector Ryan, "Great ability, as good a club team as there is in the country. The reason we haven’t won an All-Ireland has nothing to do with quality; we have the players, but for whatever reason we can’t seem to get the big performance out of them. Maybe this is the year, we’ve got a good mix now of youth and experience."
lA presentation was made by Tipperary chairman John Costigan to Jimmy Purcell, retiring shortly after 23 years looking after Semple Stadium. A most obliging and personable individual, Jimmy will be sorely missed.
Scorers for Toomevara: J. O’Brien 1-4; K. Dunne 0-7 (0-6 frees 0-1 65); M. Bevans 0-2; F. Devanney 0-2; Terry Dunne, Benny Dunne, D. Young, Tommy Dunne, P. O’Brien, W. Ryan, 0-1 each.
Nenagh Éire Óg: K. Tucker 0-6 (0-4 frees); P. Ryan 0-4; M. Heffernan 1-0; N. Moloney 1-0; R. Flannery (free), J. Kennedy, J. Slattery, E. Tucker, 0-1 each.
TOOMEVARA: J. McGrath; Barry Dunne, T. Delaney, P. McGrath; Terry Dunne, Benny Dunne, D. Young; E. Brislane, K. Dunne; M. Bevans, F. Devanney, Tommy Dunne; P. O’Brien, J. O’Brien, W. Ryan.
Subs: J. McLoughney (Young 30); D. Kennedy (Brislane 30); J. Delaney (Ryan 49).
NENAGH ÉIRE ÓG: M. McNamara; S. Ryan, J. Brennan, H. Flannery; H. Moloney, R. Flannery, E. Fitzgibbon; J. Kennedy, J. Flannery; J. Slattery, P. Ryan, E. Tucker; K. Tucker, N. Moloney, M. Heffernan.
Sub: M. Hackett (Heffernan 53).
Referee: R. Barry (Cappawhite).