THIS Munster club SHC final opened with a bang, but not the kind you like to see in any match, with two Tulla players yellow-carded.
Thereafter, however, they and opponents Loughmore-Castleiney settled down, and though there was still a lot of hard hitting there was no more nonsense.
The strong wind blew almost directly down-field, behind Loughmore-Castleiney in the first-half, but they failed to take advantage. For the first 15 minutes the scoreboard remained completely blank and Tulla finally opened the scoring, a 16th-minute pointed free by impressive corner-forward Aidan Lynch.
Finally, in the 18th minute, Loughmore-Castleiney opened their account, and oddly enough, even at that stage, it was the game’s decisive score. Several times already the Tulla goal had been threatened, keeper Phillip Brennan out smartly to save on a couple of occasions after some defensive dithering. Finally that dithering cost them, however; full-back Seán Torpe was robbed of the ball along the end-line by Evan Sweeney (just switched to full-forward), leaving him one-on-one with Brennan, and he buried it.
A fine point from corner-forward Ronan Stapleton following a move involving David and Noel McGrath, and Micheál Webster, had the Tipp champions 1-1 to 0-1 in front on 24 minutes, but a strong finish to the half — their best period of the hour, with midfielder Brian Lynch in outstanding form — saw Tulla haul back that lead.
Points from Conor and Danny O’Halloran, a free by Aidan Lynch, had it at 1-1 to 0-4 coming into injury time, looking good for the Claremen.
Wing-back Tom King (not for the first time this year) then came forward to notch a point for Loughmore, negated almost instantly by another Lynch free, and only a late, late point from Evan Sweeney separated the teams at the break, 1-3 to 0-5 in favour of Loughmore.
In the second half, the conditions — already bad — really deteriorated. So strong was the wind that Loughmore keeper and captain Johnny Gleeson could hardly get his puck-outs across the 45m line. The problem for Tulla, however, was that having the gale behind you was no great advantage either. "It was an impossible day to hurl but sure what can you do?" said manager Jim McInerney; "You’re in December now, you’ve got to take the elements as they come and they were bad today. Ground conditions were treacherous, players’ hand were numb. It was the kind of day where one break could make all the difference and they got it."
That was the first-half goal, and as this game wore on it stood larger and larger. Tulla started the second half well with points from Aidan Lynch and Conor O’Halloran putting them a point in front after 35 minutes, 0-7 to 1-3.
That was to be Tulla’s last score. For the next 25 minutes, try as they might they just couldn’t break down a magnificent Loughmore-Castleiney defence in which David Kennedy was simply superb. Time and again this most cultured of centre-backs was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Tulla had chances but hit five wides, though none were from easy positions.
"I’ve always said, our defence is unbelievable," said scoring star Evan Sweeney. "The guys up front get most of the praise but they’re unbelievable and they showed that once again today. David Kennedy, Paul Ormonde, Derek Bourke — those are great leaders. In the end I think we were the better hurling team but fair play to Tulla, they gave it everything, never gave up."
Loughmore also needed a few scores in that second half to secure this win, scores that were equally hard to come by against an equally tough Tulla defence that was well marshalled by Seán Torpey and Mark Quinn. One by one they came, only three points, but they were enough — from Evan himself, a free by Noel McGrath into the teeth of the gale, and from corner-forward Eddie Connolly, a miracle score across the wind from wide right.
Not a classic Munster final then, but worthy nevertheless, and worthy champions. "Yahoo Loughmore, little Loughmore!", exulted one of their many delighted fans afterwards; not so little anymore, Loughmore, not so little.
Scorers for Loughmore-Castleiney: E. Sweeney 1-2 (0-1 free); R. Stapleton, E. Connolly, T. King, N. McGrath (free), 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tulla: A. Lynch 0-4 (0-4 frees); C. O’Halloran 0-2, E. Torpey 0-1.
LOUGHMORE-CASTLEINEY: J. Gleeson (c); A. Stapleton, D. Bourke, P. Ormonde; E. Ryan, D. Kennedy, T. King; C. McGrath, G. Sweeney; D. McGrath, E. Sweeney, N. McGrath; E. Connolly, M. Webster, R. Stapleton. Sub: J. Campion (R. Stapleton 55).
TULLA: P. Brennan; E. Cooney, S. Torpey , J. Brennan; C. McInerney, M. Quinn, P. Lynch; B. Lynch, D. Murphy; C. O’Halloran, M. Murphy (c), E. Torpey; B. Quinn, D. O’Halloran, Aidan Lynch. Sub: A. Quinn (D. O’Halloran 55).
Referee: C. McAllister (Cork).