When these two schools met at the same stage last year they produced two magnificent games before Thurles won in a replay. Once more two superb teams — littered with All-Ireland minor winners — spared nothing in pursuit of victory. The standard served up suggests it will take a very good team to deny the Premier County a hat-trick of titles.
Thurles looked en route for victory when they led by seven points at the break after playing with the aid of the wind. However they were forced to defend for long periods after the restart as Our Lady’s came forward in wave after wave.
While Delaney was the obvious hero for the Templemore school with his equaliser, the man-of-the-match was Noel McGrath. With his side 2-4 to 0-3 in arrears at the interval, the 17-year-old almost single-handedly hauled Our Lady’s back into the tie.
In a magnificent display the Loughmore-Castleiney senior rifled over six points on the trot, five from frees.
Thurles dictated the game from the throw in. Kevin O’Gorman was a commanding at full back, while outside his county minor colleague James Barry was unbeatable and with another county minor John O’Neill superb at corner forward, they stormed into a 1-1 lead inside the opening three minutes. O’Neill claiming all their scores.
Thurles oozed confidence which was epitomised by their second goal in the 13th minute. Goalkeeper Bill McCormack picked out Patrick O’Brien with a short puck out, and his long delivery was touched home by David Butler.
Our Lady’s struggled to cope and with McGrath well marshalled by a variety of opponents, they struggled for scores, shooting six wides in the opening half as they retired seven points behind at the break.
Thurles continued to dictate matters on the change over and were denied what appeared a legitimate goal in the 33rd minute when Mathew Green first-timed the sliothar to the net but was deemed to have been in the square.
That let off sparked a remarkable fightback by wind-assisted Our Lady’s who pinned Thurles down and forced their defence to concede frees.
McGrath punished each indiscretion and with eight minutes left had cut the deficit to the minimum.
In a glorious passing movement Sean McCormack put Eanna Murray through and the goal looked certain, but his shot thundered back into play off the crossbar before being cleared.
The tension was unbearable as David Butler finally lifted the siege for Thurles with a point, their first for 21 minutes, to put two between them.
However Our Lady’s weren’t to be denied and after McGrath pointed a 65, Delaney who made a huge impact when coming on midway through the second half, became his school’s hero with the equaliser. The replay cannot come around quickly enough.
Thurles: J. O’Neill 1-3; D. Butler 1-2 (0-2f); D. Maher 0-1. Our Lady’s: N. McGrath 0-10 (0-8f, 0-1 65); E. Murray. S. Delaney 0-1 each.
B. McCormack; S. Maher, K. O’Gorman, P. .Ryan; M. Doyle, J. Barry, R. Ryan; D. Maher, P. O’Brien; K. Morris, M. Green, C. Ryan; D. Butler, C. Shelly, J. O’Neill.
A. McCormack for Green.
P. Murray; A. Ryan, L. Butler, P. Ryan; P. Moynihan, N. McGrath, W. Donnelly; W. Ryan, C. Scully; C. Hennessy, S. McCormack, A. McGrath; E. Murray, K. O’Riordan, A. Ryan.
S. Delaney for W. Ryan; A. Fogarty for O’Riordan; T. Ryan for Moynihan; L. Treacy for Scully.
N. Cosgrove (Clonmel).