Just over six weeks ago Upperchurch Drombane reached their first Mid-Tipp senior final and put up an honourable display before losing by just a goal to Drom & Inch – that put them in the back door in the county series, and fine wins over Cappawhite, Portroe and Mullinahone saw them reach their first-ever senior semi-final.
Having already accounted for Sars in the divisional semi-final, Upperchurch Drombane came to Thurles then with hopes high.
Sars were operating from a much greater base of experience base but before a ball was touched they had bad news with the last-minute loss through injury of inside forwards Lar Corbett (calf strain suffered in the win over Nenagh Éire Óg last weekend) and former county captain Ger ‘Redser’ O’Grady (ongoing back problem).
The good news was the early return from a shoulder injury of team captain Johnny Enright, who took Lar’s spot in the corner. Enright was prominent very early in attack for Sars, but showed his rustiness with three wides from three shots at the posts, efforts he would normally have converted.
That didn’t matter, however, as there were others to take up the slack. In a lack-lustre first half, young centre-back James Barry shot Upperchurch Drombane into an early lead with two long-range pointed frees, but points from wing-forward and free-taker Pa Bourke (four), replacement full-forward David Kennedy (2) and Denis Maher (1), along with a goal from corner-forward Richie Ruth, against a further points for Upperchurch Drombane from Barry (a free) and corner-forward Jody Brennan, had Thurles ahead at the break, 1-7 to 0-4.
The goal was a little fortuitous, Upperchurch corner-back Pádraig Stapleton slipping at a most inopportune moment, allowing the pacy Ruth to gather a long centre from Alan Kennedy all on his own and finish emphatically.
That was in the 19th minute, but it only confirmed what was already becoming apparent – whatever about the result on the last occasion that these teams met, this was a day on which Sars were on top.
For much of the second half Upperchurch Drombane went toe to toe with Thurles, so that by the 47th minute there was still that same difference between them as there had been at the break, six points, 1-12 to 0-9, corner-forward Colm Stapleton with a brace for Upperchurch Drombane, Rourke doing most of the scoring for Thurles.
In the final quarter, however, the gap finally began to open, and a succession of points put Thurles well clear; Ruth’s second goal, which came in the third minute of added time, was not a factor. Surprisingly, in a game that was played without rancour, two players saw red in the closing minutes, Sars centre-back Liam Cahill for a second yellow, Upperchurch midfielder Colm Ryan with a straight red for a wild pull.
Cahill will be eligible for the final; Sars will be hoping the same will apply to Lar Corbett – they’ll need him.
Scorers for Thurles Sarsfields: P. Bourke 0-9 (0-5 frees); R. Ruth 2-2; D. Maher 0-3; D. Kennedy 0-2; A. Kennedy 0-1.
Scorers for Upperchurch Drombane: J. Barry 0-3 (0-2 frees, 0-1 65); P. Shortt 0-3 (all frees); C. Stapleton 0-2; J. Brennan, B. Phelan, 0-1 each.
THURLES SARSFIELDS: P. McCormack; M. Cahill, P. Maher, K. O’Gorman; B. O’Dwyer, L. Cahill, S. Lillis; M. Gleeson, A. Kennedy; D. Maher, S. Ryan, P. Bourke; R. Ruth, D. Kennedy, J. Enright (c). Subs: D. O’Dwyer (Enright 58); G. O’Grady (Ryan 59); J. Lawlor (Cahill 60+1); M. Collins (O’Dwyer 60+1); C. Rourke (Bourke 60+1).
UPPERCHURCH DROMBANE: G. Quinn; M. Ryan, J. Ryan (c), P. Stapleton; J. Greene, J. Barry, J. Maguire; LJ Ryan, M. Ryan; P. Shortt, C. Ryan, P. Greene; J. Brennan, O. Shortt, C. Stapleton. Subs: B. Phelan (M. Ryan 37); P. Ryan (LJ Ryan 40); M. Greene (P. Greene 53).
Referee: J. Cleary (Knockshegowna).