Nenagh Éire Óg never led the game after the second minute but twice they had the defending champions shaking. Nenagh looked all but goosed nine points down by the 20th minute yet had cut the gap to a single point by the 25th minute after a rapid 2-2 barrage.
Thurles again looked in control when three points up with seven minutes left only for Andrew Coffey to exploit an absent full-back line and find the net.
Beaten by a similarly scant margin in 2013 when Loughmore-Castleiney edged them out, this will be just as tough a defeat to take for the Nenagh men and tears were in abundance as players trudged towards their dressing room.
Coffey’s goal had returned the initiative to them but most of the remainder belonged to Thurles. Stephen Cahill struck true with a long-range shot in the 56th minute. Nenagh’s attempt at a quick, short puck-out was then pounced on by Corbett and he gave Thurles a two-point cushion.
Daire Quinn, match-winner in the semi-final, hit back for Nenagh but they couldn’t add to their account in the final six minutes of action.
In front of a 5,606 crowd, Nenagh gave full value to their supporters with the effort and determination they exhibited but Thurles simply had that bit more. Ronan Maher put in a terrific display while Stephen Maher at full-back and Stephen Cahill weren’t far behind.
Pádraic Maher and Lar Corbett gave direction and Michael Cahill surged into the game, though he had struggled in the first half. And more will be expected of Pa Bourke when they face Na Piarsaigh in a Munster semi-final in two weeks’ time.
It was Corbett’s guile which defined both the opening and closing periods.
His movement and aerial ability stood out at the outset but it was his defensive qualities which stood to Thurles at the death when he managed to deny Barry Heffernan a long-range shot at goal when the Thurles lead hung by a fingernail.
Thurles played exhibition hurling in the opening 15 minutes. Nenagh couldn’t make head nor tail of their attack as they interchanged and stretched to make space.
The Maher brothers in the half-back line and Stephen Cahill were delivering astute first-time ball and in the seventh minute, Corbett caught one such delivery superbly.
Although his shot wasn’t on the same level, Conor Lanigan tracked its trajectory and touched it past Michael McNamara into the net.
By the 18th minute, all of the starting attack had scored, five of them from play as Aidan McCormack carried on his fine form from the semi-final. By the 20th, they had cultivated a handsome 1-10 to 0-4 lead.
But what was to follow threatened to turn the game on its head. Midfielder Michael Heffernan’s switch to full-forward reaped Nenagh two goals in the space of three minutes. He first set up Pearse Morris who was brought down in the parallelogram. Barry Heffernan goaled the resultant penalty although he had crossed the 20-metre line when hitting it.
Heffernan then turned Michael Cahill in and out before finishing expertly into the bottom corner.
Thurles were shaken though Bourke managed a free before the break to make it 1-11 to 2-6 but they never again hit the heights of that opening quarter. A heavy deluge at half-time did nothing to help the fare that had been highly entertaining up to that point and the first score of the half didn’t come until the 38th minute when Lanigan posted a point.
Thurles were struggling to find their range, though, and Coffey levelled it in the 47th minute after substitute James Mackey had fired over a quick brace.
But Thurles once again drew deep and McNamara had to be at his best to stop a Billy McCarthy shot. Bourke stuck over the following 65 and then Denis Maher added two from play, the latter a mighty effort from distance.
Coffey’s goal, with Sarsfields’ full-back line nowhere to be seen inside their own 40 metres, gave Nenagh hope but that bit of nous from Corbett and co proved the difference.
C Lanigan (1-2); P Bourke (0-4, 3 frees, 1 65); Denis Maher (0-4); A McCormack (0-3); L Corbett (0-2); B McCarthy, J Maher, S Cahill (0-1 each)
M Heffernan (1-4, 0-2 frees); A Coffey (1-1); Barry Heffernan (1-0, pen); P Morris, J Mackey (0-2 each); T Heffernan, D Quinn (0-1 each).
R Ruth for C Lanigan (45); David Maher for K O’Gorman (47); T Doyle for T Ruth (inj 60+1).
J Mackey for S Hennessy (29); Billy Heffernan for K Gleeson (37); P Hickey for P Morris (57).
P McCormack; S Maher, M Cahill, K O’Gorman; D Kennedy, P Maher, R Maher; S Cahill, J Maher; A McCormack, P Bourke, B McCarthy; D Maher, L Corbett, C Lanigan.
M McNamara; J Brennan, N Maloney, H Maloney; D Quinn, Barry Heffernan, M Flannery; C Ryan, M Heffernan; T Heffernan, P Murphy, A Coffey; K Gleeson, P Morris, S Hennessy.
F Horgan (Knockavilla Kickhams).