The reigning champions Sarsfields against the team they had supplanted, both sides in good form and flying high in the current league campaign. A pity, then, that the game itself, in spite of the closeness of the scoring, turned out to be something of a damp squib.
Oh there was passion, reflected in the number of cards dished out by referee Ken Healy from Ballymartle (four yellow for Newtown, two yellow for Sars plus a straight red for Wexfordman Eanna Martin in the 50th for striking Jerry O’Connor after Newtown had goaled), some fine point scoring by both sides, but it was still a long way from what you’d expect at this level.
The champions enjoyed the better start, the Newtownshandrum defence in trouble as half-forwards Michael Cussen and Eoin Quigley and inside forwards Cian McCarthy and Robert O’Driscoll (two) shot Sars into an 0-5 to 0-3 lead by the 18th minute, Ryan Clifford (two) and Ben O’Connor (a 65) replying for Newtown.
McCarthy especially had his marker in trouble. Lining out at the edge of the square, he had the beating of Brendan Mulcahy with almost every delivery and by half-time, when Sars had extended their lead to three points (0-9 to 0-6), he had notched four fine points from play.
It was a real mystery then as to why the Sars brains trust shifted him outfield just before the break, following a blood injury to Cussen and left him there for much of the second-half.
In that first-half Newtownshandrum were in real trouble. With the defence having problems, forced to clear under pressure, the quality of ball going into their attack was poor, and though Ryan Clifford and Jamie Coughlan did look dangerous the Sars defence was in control, the half-back line of Gary O’Kelly-Lynch, Ray Ryan and Daniel Kearney well on top.
The second-half was to see a quantum change. A rejuvenated Cathal Naughton began the scoring for the 2009 champions, a point within 15 seconds after a great blockdown and pass from Coughlan, and though it was Sars with the next two points (an O’Driscoll free and a pointed 65 by Cian McCarthy), it was Newtown in control from there to the finish.
The defence got to grips with the Sars attack, corner-back Dermot Gleeson emerging as a real dynamo, a shuddering shoulder stopping the flying William Kearney in his tracks in one notable incident, which necessitated the youngster’s substitution soon afterwards.
The half-back line too, marshalled by team captain Pat Mulcahy in the centre and with the powerful Jack Herlihy and Phillip Noonan stepping up their performances, was also now on top. Ben O’Connor and PJ Copse, augmented by Jerry O’Connor from his wing-forward position, took over in midfield. But most notable change of all, however, the shifting of Jamie Coughlan to the 40, and it worked a treat.
Soon, the Newtown machine clicked into gear and the points began to flow. Five in a row, Coughlan (two), Ben (two) and another from the flying Naughton. Goal chances also, two falling to substitute Donagh Stack who failed to take advantage, but in the 49th minute, racing in from the left wing position, Naughton made no such mistake, drilled a trademark angled shot on the run past Alan Kennedy in the Sars goal, putting his side five points ahead, 1-13 to 0-11.
From there to the finish it was simply a case of shutting up shop for Newtown, and the dismissal of Martin within a minute of the Naughton goal certainly didn’t help the Sars cause. They did apply some pressure, and county panellists Kieran ‘Fraggie’ Murphy and Tadhg Óg Murphy were now added to the cause, the latter impressing.
But the goal never came, and never even threatened to come, a tame enough exit by the champions.
Newtown have work to do and none will know that better than themselves, but they are where they want to be, another county semi-final, and looking ominous.
Scorers for Newtownshandrum: C Naughton 1-2, R Clifford 0-4, B O’Connor (1f, 1 65), J Coughlan 0-3 each, J O’Connor, M Bowles, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Sarsfields: C McCarthy 0-5 (1 65), R O’Driscoll (3fs) 0-4, M Cussen 0-2, E Quigley, D Kearney, C O’Sullivan (f) 0-1 each.
NEWTOWNSHANDRUM: W Biggane; G O’Mahony, B Mulcahy, D Gleeson; J Herlihy, P Mulcahy (capt); P Noonan; B O’Connor, PJ Copse; JP King, J O’Connor, C Naughton; M Bowles, J Coughlan, R Clifford.
Subs: D Stack for King (30), R Fallon for O’Mahony (inj. 39), J Bowles for M Bowles (62).
SARSFIELDS: A Kennedy; D Kenneally, J Barry, C O’Sullivan; D Kearney, R Ryan, G O’Kelly-Lynch; E Martin, D Roche; M Cussen, E Quigley, G O’Loughlin (capt); R O’Driscoll, C McCarthy, W Kearney.
Subs: K Murphy for O’Driscoll (46), T Óg Murphy for Quigley (49).
Referee: K Healy (Ballymartle).