In the end, it was cousins Liam and Noel who occupied centre-stage.
The Loughmore-Castleiney team of 1988, the club’s maiden county championship winning side, were paraded in front of the New Stand before throw-in. Selector Pat McGrath, wing-back on that occasion, delivered the crucial goal in the replay victory over Borrisoleigh and it was his nephew Liam who yesterday delivered the vital major. Pat’s son Noel hit seven points over the hour, including five on the hop between the 36th and 42nd minute. Both players rose magnificently to the challenge in the second period and had it not been for their sterling contribution, there is no doubting where the Dan Breen Cup would be residing this week.
The defeated finalists led by 1-7 to 0-6, though the key statistic of that opening half-hour was Loughmore-Caslteiney’s wides tally of 11.
“Composure was what we looked for at half-time,” said selector Seamus Bohan.
“We had some terrible wides, but we were getting the shots in. That was crucial. It wasn’t as if we weren’t creating chances. We started to dictate in the half-back line towards the end of the first half. John Meagher was key. He held the hold thing together.
“We told them to steady down a small bit at the break, compose themselves and try to find the player in the better position. We needed Liam’s goal. That lad, if he gets half a chance he will put it away. Then Noel McGrath sure, what more can you say about him. He was awesome.”
The winners led by the minimum entering the two minutes of additional time and were forced to exhaust every avenue of energy and effort to hold out the Nenagh onslaught. Pearse Morris first squandered his effort directly in front of goal; a second chance subsequently fell to Paddy Murphy though he was quickly smothered by three green and red shirts, while Michael Heffernan saw his shot blocked away in the dying seconds.
The game’s conclusion, unkind and all as it was, left Liam Heffernan’s side with a horrible empty feeling, one which won’t be helped by the evidence from the post-mortem which is sure to be conducted this week.
Nenagh Éire Óg bolted from the blocks and were three up inside four minutes as Pearse Morris, Michael Heffernan and Ritchie Flannery all found the target. Loughmore-Castleiney responded through Liam and Aidan McGrath, but a Paddy Murphy goal on 11 minutes moved the North Tipp outfit four clear.
Aidan Coffey and Tommy Heffernan stretched their lead to six in the ensuing passages of play — their starting front six were all marked on the scoresheet by the end of the first quarter — and while the 2007 champions kept in touch, on two further occasions did Nenagh reestablish said six-point cushion.
Crucially, however, they were unable to tighten sufficiently the noose hanging around Loughmore’s neck and when Liam and Aidan McGrath added further to their respective tallies, the half-time deficit of four was by no means insurmountable.
Nenagh’s Michael Heffernan drove a 35th minute penalty over the bar and his failure to find the net was punished by two Noel McGrath minors — the latter an absolute belter from distance. Indeed, the wing-forward was now the game’s central figure, popping up all over the half-forward line and three further points from the Tipperary senior cancelled out the collective haul of the Nenagh forward unit during this spell. It was a masterclass from a man who had kept a low profile early on.
With Nenagh still holding the scoreboard initiative, 1-12 to 0-13, the contest was turned on its head on 44 minutes. John Meagher supplied the delivery and Liam McGrath somehow fielded possession between two blue shirts, turned for goal and really there was only ever going to be one outcome. Loughmore-Castleiney in front for the first time.
Tomás, Noel and Ciaran McGrath traded white flags with Michael Heffernan (0-2) and Paddy Murphy on the run in for home, but Nenagh just couldn’t find that equalising score and when Evan Sweeney dissected the posts on 58 minutes, extending their lead to two, it left Nenagh with too high a mountain to scale.
Scorers for Loughmore-Castleiney: N McGrath (0-7, 0-2fs); L McGrath 1-2 (0-1 f); A McGrath (0-2, 0-2 f) C Hennessy (0-2), E Sweeney, D Kennedy, C McGrath, T McGrath (0-1).
Scorers for Nenagh Éire Óg: M Heffernan (0-7, 0-3 fs, 0-1 pen); P Murphy (1-2); P Morris (0-3); T Heffernan (0-2); R Flannery, A Coffey (0-1).
LOUGHMORE-CASTLEINEY: S Nolan; T Long, D Bourke, J Hennessy; A McGrath, J Meagher, T King; C McGrath, T McGrath; J McGrath, D Kennedy, N McGrath; L McGrath, E Sweeney, C Hennessy.
Subs: M Webster for D Kennedy (56).
NENAGH ÉIRE ÓG: M McNamara; M Flannery, N Maloney, J Brennan; D Quinn, H Maloney, Billy Heffernan; Barry Heffernan, K Tucker; P Morris, M Heffernan, T Heffernan; A Coffey, P Murphy, R Flannery.
Subs: P Ryan for A Coffey (46); D Quinn for B Heffernan (52); J Slattery for Ryan (60).
Referee: J McCormack (Knockavilla Kickhams).