I know, because I was with Kilmallock that day and I have to say, I was very impressed with the bottle shown by Thurles Sars; we all know the quality of the hurlers they had, but they showed real courage that day. Not yesterday, they weren’t putting their bodies on the line yesterday.
This was winter hurling, bitterly cold conditions, but so was two weeks ago; a different kind of winter hurling, heavy ground, but winter hurling all the same. And the thing about winter hurling is this – you have to put your body on the line, you have to commit, fully – Thurles did that two weeks ago, they didn’t do it yesterday, especially not in the first-half, and it cost them.
A comment I heard a lot after that Kilmallock game was that a bigger, wider pitch would have suited Sars’ more, that their hurling would come to the fore; well, Páirc Uí Chaoimh is big enough for anyone, and definitely the pitch was wide enough. The problem for Sars’ though was the goalposts weren’t wide enough.
Nine wides I counted for them in the first-half, eight more in the second, terrible shooting – some of their best players wouldn’t have hit a bullock’s arse with a banjo yesterday, way off target.
It wasn’t just the Thurles forwards, however; their deliveries out of defence were very poor, usually going to a De La Salle defender on the other side of the pitch, or going to the wrong Thurles player when they did manage to find one of their own.
One of their biggest faults, and I’ve said this about Tipperary too this year; they were trying to be too precise in their hurling and it didn’t work.
Yesterday called for a bit of old-fashioned direct hurling, and here, I think Thurles Sars really missed their suspended forward, Ger ‘Redser’ O’Grady. The conditions would have suited him, he’d have won some of the hard ball – Redser wouldn’t have been holding back, that’s for sure.
Stephen Lillis did very well, as did Michael Cahill, eventually, on John Mullane, but otherwise, not a lot of stars for them yesterday — overall, I’d say it’s a day most of them will want to forget.
What about De La Salle? I did say on Saturday that this is a fine side, that the work they’ve done in that club is really paying rich dividends now. Two Waterford titles in three years, and now, two Munster titles added, and great credit for that to their coach, Michael Ryan, for the way they’ve gone from strength to strength as this year has progressed.
Two years ago, in the final against Adare, De La Salle were held scoreless in the first-half; this time they only managed two points in the second half, but still it was enough.
In contrast to Thurles Sars, De La Salle showed massive courage all game, and massive character in the second half to hold out under huge pressure.
From the first minute, when wing-back Stephen Daniels ‘greeted’ Aidan McCormack, welcomed him to the Munster final with a few hearty dunts, you could see this team was up for a contest, were ready to get stuck in from the start.
With Bryan Phelan and Kevin Moran alongside him in what was an outstanding De La Salle half-back line, no-one was hiding. From full-back and captain Ian Flynn (very tidy, allowed no real goal opportunity) at the back to John Mullane up front, everyone played their part for De La Salle, everyone worked extremely hard.
Very impressive was the discipline in the De La Salle defence, especially in the second half. Very few frees conceded in the red zone, and none in the final minutes when a point was all Sars needed to bring the game to a replay. This was a team win, without doubt, the best way to win a championship.
A couple of observations, to finish. In all my time going to matches this is the first game where I saw no goal chance, not a single save made by either keeper. Good defence by both sides you could say, but overall, this was a poor Munster final. A poor crowd also, and I think in future the Munster Council should insist on a toss for home venue.
De La Salle earned this win, are worthy Munster champions. What a great boost it is too to Waterford hurling, as the season ends.