‘We are a band of brothers’

The similarities between the two Sarsfields battling for supremacy in tomorrow’s Munster Club SHC semi-final doesn’t end with a shared name.

Ray Ryan, centre-back for the Cork champions, admits that the parallels are plentiful ahead of his side’s trip to Semple Stadium, Thurles.

“We’ve both been successful inside our own county in the last few years but haven’t shown any form then in the Munster club.

“We both probably have the same axe to grind now and would like to go the next step.”

And there is more common ground. Both sides are backboned by inter-county men, past and present. Ryan himself, Conor O’Sullivan, Cian McCarthy, Michael Cussen, Kieran ‘Fraggie’ Murphy and Daniel Kearney have all featured for Cork. Pádraic Maher, Michael Cahill, Michael Gleeson, Johnny Enright, Lar Corbett and Pa Bourke have Premier experience. Both sides also boast some talented youngsters making up the balance of their teams.

While Thurles Sars are a town team, the Cork version – despite Glanmire’s closeness to Cork city and the explosion growth in recent years – is still very much a country club, and sees itself as such.

“We’re an East Cork club, and proud of it,” said Ryan. “Our major rivals are the likes of Erin’s Own, Midleton, Killeagh, Cloyne, Carrigtwohill and so on, from underage all the way through to adult.”

Not that they’re the poor country cousins. When it comes to facilities the Cork Sars are almost in a league of their own and would be the envy of many a professional club in any other code.

“We have a state-of-the-art clubhouse, astroturf pitch, huge hurling wall, an exceptional main pitch surface, full floodlights, fully equipped gym – you name it, we have it.

“A lot of that goes back to our chairman, Tadhg Murphy. He has worked tirelessly for the last five or six years to bring the club to where it is at the moment.

“The last three or four years especially, the gym has helped us improve again, has helped fellas develop their strength.”

Such has been the success of installing those facilities, says Ray, the new team manager, his older brother Pat (former Cork midfield star) has actually had to rein in some of the lads.

“Fellas were going into the gym in the morning before work, then training in the evening. They were overdoing it a bit.

“We have a lot of unbelievably dedicated young fellas, the likes of the two Kearney brothers, Daniel and William, Daniel Roche, Conor and Eoin O’Sullivan, Gary Gray, all those lads. Maybe a bit too dedicated at times.”

Having his brother as manager has made things a little awkward, says Ray, but not for himself.

“It’s tough in one sense, that crossover from brother to manager but it is tougher on him I’d say. He’d be giving a team-talk, is careful how he talks about me – he’s more inclined to criticise me than praise!

“I have no problem with it though and am delighted to have him on board. I know how professional he is, how dedicated to hurling he is, how much he thinks about the game. He is always planning in advance, whether for training or games. He’s completely obsessed with it. He brought in a few very good fellas who complement his style and is getting the best out of us.”

In a way in a tight-knit club such as Sars everyone is your brother.

“We’re all very, very close. Any neutral game at the pitch you’ll see us all hanging out together, maybe down in one corner of the pitch pucking around.

“That all helps — when things are getting tough. When the fella beside you is also your friend you’ll go that extra mile.”

Going the extra mile this year is what it’s all about for both these Sars teams. Thurles won in Tipperary in 2005, 09 and 2010, Sars Cork won in 2008 and 2010 – both failed on every occasion to win in Munster. This time there’s that extra bit of conviction.

Ray: “We sat down and talked, the players and new management. We knew we needed huge improvement in every department – training methods, the way we played, our own mentality and attitude. We all had the same mindset, to go out and try to win the county title again, then take the next step. We’re excited now about heading to Thurles – it’s not often you get to play in Semple Stadium with your club. We’re meeting a very good Thurles Sars team with a host of outstanding players. We’ve had a few weeks to think about it, we know who we’re facing, we know what we have to do.”

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