As football and hurling folk from Cork, Wexford, Clare, Limerick and Tipp gathered in the famous stadium bearing his name for the All-Ireland football and hurling qualifiers in Thurles, the neighbouring GAA fields were filled with hurling people from further afield.
The second annual Thurles Sarsfields international hurling festival saw the hurlers of Kilburn Gaels beat Dunboyne in the final of the Semple Cup. Set to become a regular on the GAA calendar, the festival could scarcely be held on a more appropriate weekend than that which features the Munster hurling final.
Kilburn Gaels’ team feature a scattering of players from across Ireland. Those economic exiles returned at the weekend for an expanded festival of hurling which also took in the O’Neill’s European hurling and camogie championship finals; a road bowling competition led off by Thurles and Tipperary legend Jimmy Doyle and a Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann performance aimed at recreational participants.
It was all an impressive feat of organisation by the committee chaired by John Enright, with over 60 volunteers from the Sars club lending a hand.
GAA president Liam O’Neill even made the official presentations. However, the Sarsfields didn’t bother mentioning to the boss about the spanner thrown in the works by the association’s fixture authorities by staging a triple-header in Semple Stadium which scuppered plans to stage the festival finals on the old sod.
No matter: the club’s own pitch in the foothills of the stadium proved more than adequate, with Tom Semple’s daughter Anne Gunning and grandson TJ watching on.
“I’d have to hand it to John Enright and his committee,” said Anne, “it’s the cup that was presented by my mother to the Sarsfields many years ago and it’s just wonderful that they’re playing for it. He [the late Tom Semple] would certainly approve”
TJ agreed: “He was imbued into the GAA and loved people coming to Thurles over the years when he was chief steward after his playing days.”
And the numbers attending show the concept is being embraced, with Enright planning to add to this year’s 12 entrants.
“The biggest thing is to make Thurles the centre of international hurling,” said Enright.
“It’s a good event, well-run, with everything organised for you. You’d expect that from Thurles Sarsfields,” said Gael manager Tom Bergin.