There have been fears that the standard of hurling in the Harty Cup was slipping in recent years, but these two schools produced an encounter that did much to restore the pride of this great championship.
Four times they were level and a replay looked likely and there would have been few complaints, after Paul Flanagan pointed for Flannan’s to leave just the minimum between the teams deep in injury time, but the champions held their nerve in those tense, dramatic extra minutes to remain on course for back-to-back titles.
St Flannan’s, who last won the title back in 2005 when they defeated Thurles, served notice of their intent early on in the game.
Hurling with supreme confidence on an excellent sod, they threw the gauntlet down to the champions by taking a five-point lead after 15 minutes, helped by an opportunist Niall Arthur goal.
Thurles, who went into the game as favourites, were rocked by the ferocity of the Flannan’s challenge which was superbly led by midfielder Brian Hehir and wing forward Arthur, but they settled well and with Stephen Maher and Pa Dunne superb in defence, they hit over five points in a row, three from McCormack and two by Mike O’Brien, to go in at the break level at 0-9 to 1-6.
Thurles CBS had many stars and none shone brighter than their corner-forward, Mike O’Brien.
At a time when his side needed inspiration, he provided it with a succession of magnificent points which effectively broke the Flannan’s challenge in a rousing second half.
Thurles continued the second half where they left off the first, rifling over three unanswered points but Flannan’s hurling was excellent and amid tremendous excitement, Shane O’Connor first-timed Aaron Considine’s cross to the net to tie the game for the third time.
With neither side wanting their season to end, the hurling raised a couple of notches, and as the tension continued to mount, Thurles eased two points clear as the game went into injury time.
Five minutes added time were allotted and in that period Thurles were forced to defend as Flannan’s threw everything at them, but for all the pressure they could only manage a point by centre back and captain Paul Flanagan, and the defending champions were grateful to hear the final whistle when it eventually came.
Scorers for Thurles CBS: A McCormack 0-6 (0-3 frees); M O’Brien, D Devane, D Maher (0-2 frees) 0-3 each; P Dunne, P Ralph 0-1 each.
St Flannan’s: N Arthur 1-3; S O’Connor 1-1; B Hehir, D O’Halloran, J Guilfoyle, T Kelly, M O’Neill, P Flanagan 0-1 each.
THURLES CBS: A Stapleton; S Maher, C Carroll, A Power; C. Barrett, D Maher, P Dunne; J Meagher, D Corbett; P Ralph, P Looby, J Bergin; A McCormack, D Devane, M O’Brien.
Subs: J Burke for Power (40); T Doyle for Corbett (44); C Treacy for Bergin (47); N O’Brien for Looby (60).
ST FLANNAN’S: N Woods; D Lafferty, G O’Connell, C O’Loughlin; C O’Gorman, P Flanagan, S O’Halloran; B Hehir, J Guilfoyle; E Malone, S O’Connor, N Arthur; T Kelly, A Considine, D O’Halloran.
Subs: M O’Neill for Malone (40); C Doohan for O’Gorman (40); C Malone for Considine (61).
Referee: M O’Connor (Limerick).