Cratloe (Clare) 1-18 Thurles Sarsfields (Tipperary) 0-14
The Thurles Sarfields substitutes had barely taken their seats when Denis Maher, head firmly rooted towards the floor, joined his colleagues in the main stand.
This Munster semi-final was seconds old when Maher swung wildly from the throw-in and caught the helmet of Liam Markham.
Referee Cathal McAllister didn’t hesitate, reaching for the back pocket to flash red.
Off went Maher and whatever chance Thurles Sarsfields had 15-on-15, their task was considerably stiffened minus the services of their in-form forward.
Maher had delivered an outstanding county final performance, hitting five points from play, and as Joe McGrath revealed afterwards, he was earmarked by Cratloe as the one player whose influence had to be curtailed.
Out the window went Thurles Sarsfields’ game-plan and playing into the elements in the first-half certainly didn’t aid their cause.
The two-man full-forward line of Lar Corbett and Conor Lanigan simply did not work and neither did the subsequent decision to leave Cratloe centre-back Conor Ryan as the free man.
Corbett, wholly ineffective throughout, was moved from one corner to the other, out the field and back in again.
Manager Tommy Maher’s early headache had developed into a severe migraine by the time McAllister called for half-time, 1-8 to 0-4 they trailed.
“It was always going to be a tough battle coming down to Ennis. Playing with 14 men made it a lot more difficult,” said Thurles Sarsfields selector Paddy McCormack. “The referee made a decision and I would have no comment to make on that. Whatever plans we had they had to change straightaway.”
For Cratloe, this fairytale season continues. Winning both codes in Clare was hailed as a “once in a lifetime achievement”, but the provincial double can no longer be dismissed as a pipedream.
With a first Munster club hurling final appearance nailed down, the footballers travel to Dungarvan next weekend to square off against The Nire.
“We are like kids in a sweetshop at the moment coming up to Christmas. We don’t know whether to turn left or to turn right, we are enjoying the situation. We don’t know when the shopkeeper is going to come and kick us out on the road,” chuckled manager Joe McGrath.
“Denis is a colossus of a man. To lose him in the first minute was a huge deficit for them to turnover. We took advantage of that. In fairness to our boys their heart is strong and when your heart is strong it will get you over the line.”
Cratloe struggled in the early exchanges to capitalise on their numerical advantage and trailed 0-3 to 0-2 on nine minutes, a superb Michael Cahill effort and a Tommy Doyle brace restoring confidence to the visitor’s endeavours. Thereafter arrived the contest’s crucial period, the Clare side scoring five unanswered points through Markham, Conor McGrath, Cathal McInerney and the Collins brothers, Sean and Podge.
McGrath twice hit the post during this spell and when set-up by Podge Collins on 19 minutes, ‘keeper Patrick McCormack produced an outstanding save to deny the corner-forward.
At the other end of the field, the Cratloe rearguard, anchored by Conor Ryan, Enda Boyce and David Ryan, hardly put a foot wrong — Sars’ starting front six registering just four points from player over the hour.
Pa Bourke’s free on 26 minutes heralded their first score in a quarter of an hour. The gap stood at three. It mattered not. The traffic flowed in only one direction. Sean Collins teed up a Liam Markham point in the subsequent action.
On the stroke of half-time, the Thurles wall collapsed. Conor McGrath supplied the delivery, Gearóid Considine cleverly batted down possession to the onrushing Podge Collins and the centre-forward escaped the clutches of Padraic Maher to flick to the net.
“They had the wind in the first-half and they made no inroads into us. We said at half-time if we could hold the seven-point lead we had we would see it out. We did just that,” continued McGrath.
Thurles desperately required a positive opening at the change of ends, but it was the outstanding pair of Markham and McGrath that continued to drive Cratloe forward — the latter hitting eight second-half points.
Pa Bourke’s accuracy from the dead ball ensured they never trailed off and three points on the hop entering the final quarter, two Bourke frees sandwiching a fine Billy McCarthy effort, reduced arrears to 1-15 to 0-13 — the closest Thurles would come of their opponents.
Cratloe, as you’d expect, had eased considerably on the throttle – minds already turning to the big ball.
McGrath, fittingly, concluded proceedings with three points, his final free of the afternoon awarded for a foul on Podge Collins. The centre-forward had shown a clean pair of heels to Ronan Maher and was dragged to the ground as he moved away from Padraic Maher.
Cratloe’s fitness, even at such a late stage, never faltered.
“I thought coming here that if we scored 1-12 or 1-13 we would be in with a right chance. To score 1-18 today after scoring only seven points against Ballygunner, it was a magnificent performance.”
“I never played in a Munster final at any level. The lads played in one last year and they have an appetite for more. Bring Kilmallock on.”
Scorers for Cratloe: C McGrath (0-11, 0-5 frees, 0-1 ’65); P Collins (1-2); L Markham (0-3, 0-1 free); S Collins, C McInerney (0-1 each).
Scorers for Thurles Sarsfields: P Bourke (0-8, 0-7 frees); T Doyle (0-2); B McCarthy, M Cahill, S Cahill, C Lanigan (0-1 each).
CRATLOE: G Ryan; S O’Leary, M Hawes, D Ryan; S Chaplin, C Ryan, E Boyce; L Markham, D Collins; S Gleeson, P Collins, S Collins; C McInerney, G Considine, C McGrath.
Subs: D Browne for Considine (36 mins), B Duggan for D Collins (55).
THURLES SARFIELDS: P McCormack; M Cahill, David Maher, S Maher; R Maher, P Maher, M Gleeson; S Cahill, Denis Maher; B McCarthy, A McCormack, L Corbett; C Lanigan, T Doyle, P Bourke.
Subs: R Ruth for A McCormack (38 mins), M O’Brien for T Doyle (43).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork).
Denis Maher had been the key man for Thurles Sarsfields in their run to a 33rd county championship title and his sending off less than a minute in robbed the visitors of their in-form forward.
Talk of the town
Cratloe’s fairytale run continues. Yesterday’s win marked their 12th in 16 Sundays. The club stand one hour away from a place in both Munster finals.
Did that just happen?
Aidan McCormack drilling wide from a placed ball 30 yards from goal in the 5th minute. A shocking miss by the Thurles Sarsfields centre-forward.
Best on show
Liam Markham was superb around the middle for Cratloe, but there was simply no stopping Conor McGrath in front of goal. The corner-forward finished with 0-11, Michael Cahill enduring a torrid afternoon in trying to keep tabs on the Cratloe ace.
Thurles boss Michael Maher opted for a two-man full-forward line following Maher’s dismissal, but to no avail. The later decision to leave Conor Ryan as the free man in the Cratloe defence beggared belief as the centre-back hurled up a storm.
The man in black
Cathal McAllister correctly applied the rulebook when sending Maher to the line. Conor Ryan picked up a yellow card before the second half started though it was not clear what for.
Cratloe play Kilmallock in the Munster decider on November 23.
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