A century after collecting their very first Tipperary SFC title as just Castleiney, Loughmore-Castleiney were crowned champions for a 13th time yesterday.
They may not have scored in the second-half, but the winners did just enough to retain the silverware they won in 2013.
Loughmore may have vacated the hurling throne to Thurles Sarsfields but they would not be denied in this football replay against Cahir as senior silverware visited this remarkable dual club for the third time in two years.
John McGrath, younger brother of Noel and a former dual All-Ireland minor medallist, was sensational with four points as he collected the man of the match award. But Loughmore had to survive a spirited fightback from a Cahir side forced to line out without former Tipperary senior football captain Robbie Costigan.
The vastly-experienced Costigan was only released from hospital on Christmas Eve after sustaining a broken rib and a punctured lung in last Sunday’s drawn encounter. Eoin Donaghy deputised well but Costigan’s leadership skills were missed by Cahir, who found themselves eight points down in the first-half playing against the wind.
Loughmore were on fire from the start and were 0-7 to 0-0 clear before Dean Lonergan, who scores 1-2, opened Cahir’s account with a 23rd minute free. The damage could have been worse for Cahir as Loughmore created all but one of the goalscoring opportunities in the first-half.
John McGrath went closest five minutes before half-time as his thundering drive was tipped onto the crossbar and over by Cahir goalkeeper Brian Enright. Noel McGrath followed up with a majestic point from play, his second, and Loughmore were 0-9 to 0-1 clear.
But, in the second minute of first-half stoppage time, Paddy O’Flaherty sparked the Cahir fightback with a well-taken goal. And when Lonergan netted in the 39th minute, with the opening score of the second-half, it was game on.
Lonergan followed up with a point two minutes later but that was the end of the scoring as Benny Hickey was off target with a free in the 45th minute as Cahir desperately chased parity.
Loughmore somehow clung on as Noel McGrath took one for the team in stoppage time, hauling down an opponent with a rugby-style tackle which earned him a black card.
His cousin Liam, Tipp’s 2011 All-Ireland minor football winning captain, was black carded in the first-half, along with opposite number 13 Pádraig Whelan.
And there was a controversial moment in the second-half when O’Flaherty looked to have kicked a point just inside Dominic Brennan’s right hand upright, but the effort was waved wide.
“I know the boys approached the umpire and linesman,” said Cahir boss and newly-appointed Waterford supremo Tom McGlinchey.
“A point is a killer. All those things you look at when you lose by a point. The small things will always come back to haunt us. Maybe extra-time would have been nice to see but Loughmore were deserving winners. They scored more than us. They got their nine points in the first-half and kept us to two points in total.”
His opposite number Declan Laffan reflected: “When I saw it first, I thought it was wide. Then I looked back a second time and I wasn’t sure. One thing I always think with a dubious point like that, if the player doesn’t start arguing, it’s generally wide. And he (O’Flaherty) didn’t argue.”
Despite the inclement weather conditions, a crowd of 1,710 witnessed another enthralling game between the finalists, a figure that eclipsed the drawn match.
Laffan added: “We spoke about this all year, about trying to put county finals back to back. We came up short in the hurling but we’re absolutely thrilled today.
“I thought we should have been further out of sight at half-time – we probably went for a couple of goals. “We should have had another three or four points on the board at half-time. “Conceding that goal before half-time really got them back into the game.”
Scorers for Loughmore-Castleiney: J McGrath 0-4 (2f), N McGrath and L Treacy (2f) 0-2 each, E Sweeney 0-1.
Scorers for Cahir: D Lonergan 1-2 (0-1f), P O’Flaherty 1-0.
LOUGHMORE-CASTLEINEY: D Brennan; J Meagher, W Eviston, T McGrath; T King, C McGrath, J Ryan; N McGrath, D Kennedy; A McGrath, C Hennessy, L Treacy; L McGrath, E Sweeney, J McGrath.
Subs: Eamonn Connolly for L McGrath (b/c 9), D Bourke for Treacy (43), J Hennessy for N McGrath (b/c 60+1)
CAHIR: B Enright; M O’Connor, G Halley, C Casey; S O’Connor, A Casey, E Donaghy; E Kendrick, L Casey; B Hickey, P O’Flaherty, S Murphy; P Whelan, D Lonergan, J McGrath.
Subs: D Tarrant for Whelan (b/c 14), T O’Gorman for S O’Connor (53); N McKenna for C Casey (b/c 56).
Referee: Sean Lonergan.