Displaying the hunger and drive of a team seeking a first title, Sarsfields’ desire for even further success remains undiminished. They now sit tantalisingly on the cusp of winning back-to-back titles – and a fifth since ‘08 – after a hugely impressive ten-point victory over neighbours, Erin’s Own, in an enjoyable semi-final replay.
Perhaps this drive lies in their need to succeed in the Munster and All-Ireland Club championship, too, where they ostensibly have unfinished business. However, their county final opponents, Glen Rovers, might have something to say about that on Sunday afternoon.
“All we were focused on tonight was to get a win over Erin’s Own,” said Sars coach, Pat Ryan. “We hadn’t even thought about the seven-day turnaround or Glen Rovers. Our fellas were very tuned in from the throw-in. We made a couple of changes from the drawn match and they worked. The subs also contributed a lot. Young Liam Healy came on and did really well. He turns 17 in November, and is one for the future.”
Ryan has done more than most to cultivate a culture of consistency at Riverstown, but, on the field, Cian McCarthy continues to impress and his absence from the Cork senior hurling panel may not last much longer after another eye-catching performance from the all-action forward.
McCarthy scored 2-7, and as a target man, free-taker and sideline converter perhaps only Glen Rovers’ Patrick Horgan eclipses his scoring feats at this level.
Kieran ‘Fraggie’ Murphy was another to shine on a night when Sarsfields’ management reshuffled their starting XV and it had the desired effect: they showed a clinical edge up front and excellent defence coupled with crisp first touches and style and panache to boot.
Murphy showed his innate hurling intelligence in creating the openings for two of Sars’ goals, using clever passes to put Tadhg Óg Murphy and Cian McCarthy into goal-scoring positions.
“Kieran’s not as fast as he was but he’s got a great brain and there’s no one better to set up those kind of goal opportunities than him,” added Ryan.
Erin’s Own’s journey in this year’s campaign has been one of the championship’s most impressive stories, but they couldn’t match the intensity and smarter movement and hurling nous of their east Cork neighbours.
The portents didn’t look good for them after ten minutes.
Sars shot into a 1-2 to 0-0 lead, and the Erin’s Own men were left chasing the game. The closest they got to their opponents was within three points but, ultimately, it was Sars’ goals that thwarted the Erin’s Own challenge. After Gavin O’Loughlin lofted over a sublime 50m point from near the sideline, Sars notched their first major. McCarthy made a blistering solo-run, Shay Bowen looked to have cleaned up a weak attempt but the goalkeeper was dispossessed and Ronan Murphy was on hand to pull first time to the net.
With William Kearney and Conor O’Sullivan outstanding in the Sars defence, the champions continued to build a lead with Robert O’Driscoll (2) and Ronan Murphy pushing their side ahead 1-4 to 0-1 by the 13th minute.
Erin’s Own gradually put some good phases of play together with Kieran Murphy landing two points to keep his side in touch. And the second quarter proved to be an even contest. The pace of the game never dropped though, while the exchanges were hard-hitting and the score of this half went to Cian McCarthy who curled over a huge sideline cut in the 25th minute to leave it stand 1-6 to 0-5 at the break.
Erin’s Own needed to start positively but two bad wides in quick succession proved costly. And Sars capitalised. Kieran ‘Fraggie’ Murphy showed great vision to pick out McCarthy who fired home Sars’ second goal in the 34th minute.
But Erin’s Own never gave up. Cian O’Connor, Killian Murphy, Cathal O’Mahony, and the outstanding Shane Murphy were hurling well in defence and three points in rapid-fire succession from Kieran and Eoghan Murphy (2) reduced the deficit to three again by the 38th minute.
A goal is what Erin’s Own needed and a key moment arrived for them in the 42nd minute when impressive substitute, Robbie O’Flynn, showed blinding pace to cut through the heart of the Sars defence and unleash a powerful shot which Alan Kennedy brilliantly saved. From the next play Eoghan Murphy pointed but Erin’s Own needed that goal.
Instead Sars got one. Kieran ‘Fraggie’ Murphy again was central in the build-up, setting up Tadhg Óg Murphy with a perfectly-weighted hand-pass and the latter finished clinically. That made it 3-7 to 0-10 on 45 minutes before matters turned sour for Erin’s Own when Seán Kelly received his marching orders after picking up a second yellow.
Erin’s Own did a get their goal through an Eoghan Murphy penalty in the 55th minute and had reduced the margin to four.
But Sars finished emphatically with two sublime points from 16-year-old Liam Healy and a Cian McCarthy goal giving their victory added gloss.
“I’m thrilled to reach another county final,” added Ryan. “You look at the Kilkennys of the intercounty world or here in Cork when Blackrock, Newtownshandrum and Erin’s Own were reaching finals consistently since around 2000. This is where we want to be.”
C McCarthy (2-7, 3 frees, 2 ‘65s’, 1 s/line); T Óg Murphy and R Murphy (1-1 each); R O’Driscoll and L Healy (0-2 each); G O’Loughlin and C Duggan (0-1 each).
E Murphy (1-8, 1-0 pen, 6 frees); K Murphy (0-3); M Collins, A Bowen and A Power (0-1 each).
A Kennedy; W Kearney, C Leahy, C O’Sullivan; D Roche, R Ryan, E Martin; D Kearney, E Quigley; R Murphy, G O’Loughlin (capt.), C McCarthy; R O’Driscoll, K Murphy, E O’Sullivan.
T Óg Murphy for R Murphy (40); C Duggan for R O’Driscoll (51); L Healy for K Murphy (56).
S Bowen; C O’Connor, C Dooley, K Murphy; S Cronin, S Murphy (capt), C O’Mahony; M O’Carroll, S Kelly, K Murphy, S Horgan, M Collins; C O’Callaghan, E Murphy, A Bowen.
R O’Flynn for O’Callaghan (22); J Sheehan for Collins (47); J O’Carroll for E Murphy (temp. 49-51); A Power for Horgan (53).
– J Larkin (Douglas)