Brilliant Ben lifts Newtown

Newtownshandrum 1-16 Thurles Sarsfields 0-13

They had finished up comfortable winners over Thurles Sarsfields in the AIB Munster Club SHC semi-final, but it could have been so different.

In the opening 12 minutes rampant Sarsfields hit Newtown with a barrage of points, seven in all, and also saw Pat Lawlor’s shot rebound off a post before being cleared by Newtown corner-back Dermot Gleeson. Had Lawlor’s effort gone in it’s doubtful if the Cork champions could have survived.

Newtown settled down after that escape as their big players took centre stage. None more so than Ben O’Connor, whose contribution to his club’s victory yesterday must rank among his finest.

In the next nine minutes Cork’s 2004 All-Ireland winning captain rattled over four points without reply; his brothers, Jerry and John, added one each and when Cathal Naughton levelled it at 0-7 apiece four minutes into injury-time in the first half, there was only going to be one outcome: the Tipperary champions had gone 23 minutes without a score.

Newtown coach Bernie O’Connor was mightily relieved his side had not conceded a goal early on. “Thurles, as I expected they would, asked serious questions of our lads. Thankfully we had the answers,” he said.

“I wasn’t too worried after they went seven points ahead, but if the goal had gone in, it would be an entirely different ball game.

“Once we didn’t concede a goal I was always confident we would come back. It was a good wake up call for us.”

Thurles hurled with great hunger and passion from the throw-in and must have been surprised at the ease which they found themselves 0-7 to nil after 12 minutes: captain Ger O’Grady, and the Enright brothers, Johnny and Eddie, contributed the scores.

Newtown’s frustration was evident in two yellow cards for reckless pulls. However, the game took a dramatic turn from there to the interval, as the O’Connor brothers, and Ben in particular, finally began to play with a bit more fluency and at the break, the sides were tied at 0-8 apiece - Pat Lawlor pointing for Sarsfields just before the whistle.

Thurles re-jigged their team for the second half with Eddie Enright and Ger O’Grady reverting back to their usual positions of midfield and centre-forward respectively, but it made no appreciable difference as Ben O’Connor displayed all his prowess with of the best points of his career. O’Connor chased down a seemingly lost cause and skilfully robbed a Thurles defender before landing a sublime point from 50 metres out on the touchline.

It was an inspirational score, and how his colleagues responded. Jerry O’Connor took off on a mazy run before belting home a superb goal and Newtown looked to have finally broken the Sars challenge when James Bowles, with only the keeper to beat, was denied a goal by Patrick McCormack who deflected the shot onto his crossbar and over.

Unfortunately tempers then became frayed and Newtown had Pat Mulcahy sent off for a second yellow card offence; Sars lost Pat Lawlor with a straight red for a challenge on his fellow countyman Dermot Gleeson. Before his departure Lawlor missed a goal chance set up by Lar Corbett, and Wayne Cully had a 20 metre free saved.

Thurles coach Ger Cunningham, who steered Newtown to All-Ireland glory two years ago, was gracious in defeat: “I knew how good Newtown were and we needed a good start if we were to have any chance. Had the goal gone in it might have turned out differently, but in the final analysis the pace of the game caught us.

“Once Newtown upped the tempo we couldn’t stay with them.”

Scorers: Newtown: B. O’Connor 0-8 (0-5 frees); Jerry O’Connor 1-1; John O’Connor, C. Naughton, JP King 0-2 each; J. Bowles 0-1. Thurles: G. O’Grady(0-1 free), J. Enright (frees) 0-4 each; E. Enright 0-2; S. Lillis, P. Lawlor, P. Bourke 0-1 each.

NEWTOWN: P. Morrissey; G. O’Mahony, B. Mulcahy, D. Gleeson; D. Murphy, P. Mulcahy, P. Noonan; AT O’Brien, Jerry O’Connor; D. Mulcahy, B. O’Connor, C. Naughton; J. O’Mahony, J. Bowles, John O’Connor. Subs: JP King for Murphy; M. Farrell for O’Mahony.

THURLES SARSFIELDS: P. McCormack; B. O’Sullivan, G. Mernagh, T, King; S. Lillis, B. Carroll, J. Lawlor; E. Enright, W. Cully; J. Corbett, G. O’Grady, J. Enright; R. Ruth, L. Corbett, P. Lawlor. Subs: P. Bourke for Ruth; S. Mason for J. Corbett; E. Walsh for L. Corbett.

Referee: M. Wadding (Waterford).

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