All four of Sars’ county brigade produced on the day, Michael Cahill doing as good a man-marking job on Clonoulty dangerman John O’Neill (on whom more anon) as could reasonably be expected, Padraic Maher giving a towering man-of-the-match performance at centre-back, Pa Bourke doing far more in general play than his four points from frees would suggest, while player-of-the-year Lar Corbett stamped his quality on proceedings with the decisive second-half score, a goal of typical quality.
This wasn’t just about the Sars stars, however. Midfielder Michael Gleeson is a hurler of real quality, had a brilliant hour; forwards Richie Ruth, Stephen Lillis and youngsters Denis Maher and sub Aidan McCormack, worked their collective socks off but were also deadly in their shooting. At the back, goalkeeper and captain Paddy McCormack was magnificent, and two saves in the final five minutes (the first from the ever-dangerous Clonoulty full-forward Thomas Butler, the second from the aforementioned John O’Neill) were of the very highest calibre.
Then you had full-back Kevin O’Gorman, tasked with trying to hold out the powerful Butler and succeeding admirably, and who himself made a tremendous flying body-block in the 48th minute of yet another certain goal-bound shot from – yes, you’ve guessed it – John O’Neill, surely a star in the making. Had any (or all) of those shots gone in, who knows to what heights Clonoulty might have raised their game? As it was, however, Sars held out, and held on for what was ultimately a comfortable and fully merited win.
Watched by a subdued crowd of only 6,224 (second lowest attendance in over 20 years and a major disappointment in a year in which so much glory was visited on the county), the hotly-fancied ‘home’ side got off to a flying start, were six points to nil ahead after 13 minutes thanks to two points each from the powerful Lillis and the quicksilver Ruth, one apiece from placed balls by Bourke and the veteran Johnny Enright.
A pity, from a neutral point of view; Clonoulty were always going to have their hands full but now their task became monumental. Even as people were worrying about a landslide, however, they came thundering into the game, centre-back John Devane prominent, but it was captain and wing-forward Tom Butler (not to be confused with cousin Thomas) supplying the inspiration. A hat-trick of points from Tom, freetaker Timmy Hammersley adding another, and when the ubiquitous John O’Neill bounced home a 20m free in the 29th minute it left just two points between the teams at the break, 0-9 to 1-4, and the prospect of a real contest to come.
The second half, however, began ominously for Clonoulty; only a fortunate block by Padraig Heffernan denied Lar Corbett what looked a certain goal just seconds after the restart (super delivery by midfielder Gleeson), but Sars wouldn’t be denied for long. Three fine points by Denis Maher and two from Aidan McCormack (two teenagers, the latter still a minor and scorer of 19 points in the recent minor county final success against Nenagh Eire Óg), against just one point for Clonoulty, from Hammersley, had the champions comfortably ahead at the three-quarter mark, and when Lar Corbett grabbed yet another seeing-eye centre from Gleeson on 46 minutes, stepped inside his marker and drilled to the net, it was practically out of sight – 1-14 to 1-5.
Hurling, however, is a funny old game and fortunes can change quite dramatically in the twinkling of an eye. Could have happened here too had any of those three goal-scoring opportunities that Clonoulty created for themselves in the final minutes been availed of. A combination of superb goal-keeping and great defence, however, allied to a bit of luck, meant Sars could breathe fairly easily as the minutes wound down, and for a roll-leading 31st time, Dan Breen rests once again in Thurles.
Deserved, definitely, but there’s surely more in this team.
Scorers for Thurles Sars: D Maher 0-4; P Bourke 0-4 (frees); L Corbett 1-0; R Ruth 0-2; A McCormack 0-2; J Enright 0-2 (frees); S Lillis 0-2 (0-1 s/l).
Clonoulty-Rossmore: J O’Neill 1-1 (1-0 free); Tom Butler 0-3; T Hammersley 0-3 (0-2 frees).
THURLES SARSFIELDS SUBS: A McCormack for Enright (37); J Corbett for A Kennedy (52); JJ Burke for Ruth (61); M O’Brien for D Maher (61); P Leahy for O’Dwyer (62).
CLONOULTY-ROSSMORE SUBS: A Kearney for L Devane (23); P White for O’Connor (28); C Ryan for M Heffernan (38); S O’Connor for F O’Keeffe (50).
Referee: K Delahunty (Moyle Rovers).