Ger O’Grady led Thurles Sarsfields to their first Tipperary senior hurling championship title in 31 years - bridging the gap with a 1-17 to 0-15 victory over debutants Drom-Inch in a Mid-Tipp final that never quite lived up to expectations.
The three points O’Grady contributed did not reflect his overall performance, especially taking in to consideration his unselfish distribution to colleagues in goal-scoring positions.
Coach Ger Cunningham insisted: “I think we saw the real ‘Redser’ out there today and I hope everyone will recognise that fact. He was disciplined, inspiring and he was a true leader. That’s how he has been throughout the campaign.”
That campaign ended with an entertaining if not exciting final played out before an attendance of 12,710 on a dull and damp afternoon at Semple Stadium, where the closeness of the scoring kept the fans on their toes.
The goal that gave Thurles Sarsfields the advantage, and which for a long time looked like deciding the game, came about in the most unusual circumstances.
They were presented with a golden opportunity after seven minutes when Redser claimed possession straight in front of goal but, with a point at his mercy, he passed into the goal area where it was tapped down perfectly for Richie Ruth. But the corner-forward never got his weight behind the ball, and a somewhat sloppy but nevertheless dangerous effort was blocked and cleared by Damien Young in the Drom goal.
The goal came when it was least expected just a minute later. Thurles were awarded a sideline on the right wing, Wayne Cully sailed the cut into the goalmouth where the goalkeeper reached for it, but it appeared to glance off his hand and into the net for the score that would keep Thurles Sarsfields in the driving seat.
It was four minutes before the sides settled again and Johnny Enright drove over a free to put Thurles four points clear and spark off a sharp shooting competition between himself and Seamus Butler.
Butler, who emerged with a personal tally of 11 points, kept Drom-Inch in touch - mostly from long-range - with the Thurles defence in splendid form.
Drom-Inch had genuine claims for a penalty in the 20th minute when Donnacha Kennedy was at least impeded - if not brought down - in the vicinity of the square after soloing through from just short of the half way line. The ball was cleared but Butler drove over a point from play.
At half-time the goal still separated the sides, with Thurles Sarsfields ahead 1-9 to 0-9 after recovering from a difficult patch when Drom-Inch reduced the margin to a point going into the last minute of normal time.
Kevin Butler pointed for Drom-Inch two minutes into the second half, Ger O’Grady pulled one back and Seamus Butler followed with another point in the 34th minute. James Woodlock cut the margin to a single point again in the 36th minute and the game was in the balance until Redser, Stephen Lillis, Wayne Cully, Ritchie Ruth and Wayne Cully again, from long range, put daylight between the sides for the first time.
“It was a tough game but we always expected a tough game,” Cunningham, who took charge of Thurles Sarsfields this year, insisted.
“Those guys showed a lot of character out there today. A lot of them had been in four finals with nothing to show for it. It took great courage to come back from that.
“We missed some chances. We were a bit careless going for goals when we should have been taking points but we came through and I have to hand it to Redser. He took control today and led by example. We saw the real Redser out there.”
: Thurles Sarsfields J. Enright 0-6 (0-3 from frees), W. Cully 1-2 (1-0 free), G. O’Grady and R. Ruth 0-3 each, E. Enright, P. Lawlor and S. Lillis 0-1 each. Drom-Inch: S. Butler 0-11 (0-7 frees), J. Woodlock 0-2, M. Butler 0-1 (free) and K. Butler 0-1 each.
: P. McCormaic; B. O’Sullivan, G. Mernagh, T. King; St. Lillis, B. Carroll, J. Lawlor; E. Enright, W. Cully; J. Enright, G. O’Grady, J. Corbett; R. Ruth, L. Corbett, P. Lawlor. Subs: S. Mason for S. Lillis (54 mins), P. Bourke for P. Lawlor (57 mins), T. Connolly for T. King (63 mins), E. Walsh for L. Corbett (63 mins).
: D. Young; M. Costello, E. Buckley, E. Costello; D. Kennedy, P. Ryan, T. Cantwell; P. Butler, J. Woodlock; Micheal Butler, Macdara Butler, M. Ryan; K. Butler, S. Butler, S. Callanan. Subs: P. Collins for K. Butler (47 mins), L. Brett for S. Callanan (48 mins), F. McGrath for Macdara Butler (52 mins), P. Kennedy for P. Ryan (56 mins), Martin Butler for D. Kennedy (58 mins).
: Brian White (Clonmel Commercials).