Mullinahone looked to be on the verge of an historic first title when they led by six points entering the final quarter. But when all seemed lost, Thurles Sarsfields stormed back from the brink to draw the game with a point from substitute Pat Lawlor two minutes into injury-time.
To say that Mullinahone were devastated at the quite extraordinary turn of events would be an understatement. They were totally gutted and now face a severe test of character going into next Sunday’s replay at a venue still to be decided.
To all intents and purposes, Mullinahone had this final, watched by an attendance of 10,000, in their safe-keeping, due in the main to stylish performances from player/manager John Leahy and Eoin Kelly.
But whether or not it was the dread of losing three finals in succession that spurred Thurles Sarsfields, the fact remains that they are still alive and kicking. But they nearly blew it.
For a long time it appeared that this would be Mullinahone’s ultimate hour of success in a final that did not really spring to life and sparkle until we reached the closing stages. Conditions did not help matters. Heavy showers of rain and a gusting wind saw to that. Thurles, with centre-back Brendan Carroll holding Brian O’Meara scoreless, left-half-back John Lawlor, hurling with tremendous gutso, and midfielder Stephen Mason most prominent, ruled the roost in the opening sequences.
Lar Corbett, showing no ill-effects from the “dead leg” he carried into the previous weekend’s semi-final, shot over two quick points to give Sars the initiative while playing against the wind. In stark contrast, Mullinahone had a traumatic start. Corner-back Martin Costello was booked in the opening minute.
Three other yellow cards were flashed by referee Paddy Russell in the first half. But although they were a number of isolated incidents of a non-sporting variety, overall, the game was played within the rules.
The biggest blow Mullinahone received, however, was when their inspirational wing-back Paul Kelly was forced to leave the field with a nasty leg injury after just six minutes of play. As a result, he is deemed highly doubtful for the replay.
With Eoin Kelly, soon making his mark at full forward, and John Leahy performing most effeciently in the left corner of attack, Mullinahone gradually wrested the reins of control from their opponents and led 0-7 to 0-5 at half-time.
A third point from Corbett, two minutes after the resumption, left just the bare minimum between them. But Thurles Sars flattered to deceive and instead of an expected onslaught with the elements in their favour, it was Mullinahone, with Leahy now doing fabulous work at midfield, who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and went six points clear with some wonderful scores from Kelly and Leahy. With defeat staring them in the face, the Thurles Sarsfields management team threw caution to the wind.
They took off centre-forward Cathal McIntyre and full-forward Eamon Walsh, who grabbed a hat-trick the previous Sunday in the semi-final. Introduced were Matthew O’Dowd and Pat Lawlor, and what an impact they were to make.
O’Dowd rifled over two points as Thurles Sarsfields bravely fought for survival. They reduced the deficit to two points before a great goalscoring attempt from Corbett whistled just wide of the upright.
Mullinahone looked to have it sewn up when in the last minute of normal time wing-forward Conor Arrigan edged them two points in front.
But a point from a free from Stephan Mason in the first minute of injury time, followed by Pat Lawlor’s equaliser 60-seconds later, brought the curtain down on a tremendous Thurles Sarsfields comeback and kept Mullinahone’s hopes for an historic first on hold. The venue for next Sunday’s replay will be announced at a meeting of the Tipperary County Board tonight. Semple Stadium is due to be closed today as work is to commence on the erection of a new stand in the famous stadium.
Scorers: Thurles Sarsfields. L. Corbett 0-3; S. Mason 0-3 (0-2 from frees; 0-1 from 65); M. O'Dowd 0-2; C. McIntyre 0-2 (0-2 from frees); G. O'Grady 0-2; J. Lawlor and P. Lawlor 0-1 each.
Mullinahone. E. Kelly 0-4; J. Leahy 0-3; P. Croke 0-3 (0-3 from frees); E. Carey 0-2; C. Arrigan and N. Leahy 0-1 each.
THURLES SARSFIELDS. C. Carroll; S. O'Shea, T. Maher, G. Mernagh; J. Lillis, B. Carroll, J. Lawlor; S. Mason, E. Enright; T. Collins, C. McIntyre, T. Ruth; G. O'Grady, E. Walshe, L. Corbett. Subs. E. Costello for Collins (blood substitution); E. Costello for Collins (normal substitution). M. O'Dowd for McIntyre; P. Lawlor for Walsh; J. Enright for Ruth.
MULLINAHONE:. V. Doheny; D. Hackett, P. Curran, M. Costello; K. Vaughan, E. O'Brien, P. Kelly; E. Carey, N. Curran; P. Croke, B. O'Meara, C. Arrigan; E. Kelly, J. Leahy, N. Leahy. Sub. P. O'Shea for P. Kelly (leg injury).
Referee. P. Russell.