When Loughmore-Castleiney defeated Kilsheelan/Kilcash in last year’s Tipperary senior football quarter-final, they scraped over the line by one point. When the sides met at the same stage again two weeks ago, Loughmore had just two points to spare.
A draw at the end of normal time appeared a possibility, but it looked business as usual when Loughmore eventually ground out the win in their usual style. Yet there was a marked difference between that side and the one which won last year’s county final replay against Clonmel Commercials - Loughmore were down eight players.
It was a similar scenario last week when Loughmore relinquished their hurling crown in the quarter-final against Drom & Inch; their front eight was unrecognisable from the one which won last year’s hurling final replay against Thurles Sarsfields.
Loughmore will be seriously tested again this weekend in their football semi-final against Upperchurch-Drombane as John Meagher and John Ryan went off injured last weekend. But they know nothing else only to keep on keeping on, which they showcased again last week in the face of such adversity, but it is getting harder.
Some of their players will return next season but Loughmore are keen to keep winning county titles because they know that once this golden generation goes, hard times are coming.
“In 10 years’ time, I don’t think Loughmore will be senior,” said Pat Cullen, a stalwart in the club, last year. “We’re weak at juvenile. We’d have 11 or 12 at some ages, and that’s with a couple of girls. Until the McGraths start breeding, and a few other lads, I don’t know…”
The generation game is different now to the past, especially with smaller families. It often takes far longer for good times to roll again. That’s a concern for Loughmore for another day but they will keep going for as long as they can. This golden generation continues to keep on giving.
The body language said it all. Devastation. Heartbreak. This wasn’t supposed to be the way the dream would end for Clough-Ballacolla, but the second half of last year’s Leinster hurling final was like a torturous nightmare. Ballyhale Shamrocks scored six goals. Their final winning margin was 27 points. In Croke Park. Live on TV. Cruel.
It was all the more painful because the journey up to that point had been so novel and joyous. In their three previous Leinster club campaigns, Clough-Ballacolla had failed to win a match. Clonkill from Westmeath beat them in 2009 while Oulart-the-Ballagh took them out twice. The Laois side went into last year’s quarter-final as outsiders against Rapparees from Wexford before turning over Kilmacud Crokes in the semi-final.
The journey felt even more special again because of how much Clough-Ballacolla had achieved in such a short timespan. They won the delayed 2020 Laois county final in mid-August before beginning the defence of the title just weeks later. The last time they had retained a county title was during the First World War; having waited more than a century, they managed to do it in 11 weeks.
Back then, the club was known as Ballygeehan, which won five in a row between 2014-’18. When Laois won their only All-Ireland senior hurling title in 1915, Ballygeehan supplied the bulk of that side. The club changed its name a number of times afterwards to St Canice’s, Cannonswood, Ballacolla before settling on Clough-Ballacolla. The club enjoyed huge underage success in the late 1990s and 2000s, which paved the way for a first senior title in 91 years in 2009.
The club have won five titles in the intervening years but winning the three-in-a-row for the first time under the Clough-Ballacolla name would be even more special with Camross, the most successful club in the county, in the other corner. Clough-Ballacolla did beat them in the 2015 final but Camross exacted revenge in the 2017 decider. When the sides met earlier in the championship, Clough-Ballacolla won by seven points, despite throwing away a six-point lead and registering 19 wides.
Clough-Ballacolla will be expected to win but Camross are always a different proposition in finals; in the last 63 years, Camross have won 26 of the 35 finals they’ve featured in.
In Galway last year, club delegates backed a revised senior hurling championship format for 2023 in an effort to retain their senior status. Rather than compete at the Intermediate grade, teams will now enter a standalone ‘Senior B’ competition in 2023, where the only prize, outside of a newly introduced cup, will be promotion to Senior A.
Galway had long opposed the motion drawn up by the fixture calendar review task force – which was subsequently passed - to limit the number of teams in an adult county senior and Intermediate championship to 16. Counties with more than 16 teams in those competitions were given until 2023 to reduce their numbers accordingly.
That was always going to be difficult for Galway because there are currently 24 teams in the senior hurling championship. Yet with teams not wanting to be demoted to Intermediate, a team which finds themselves in Senior B next year, but still qualifies for the knockout stages this year as the third team in Senior B, could actually win the senior championship and the All-Ireland club title, and not be able to defend their titles in 2023.
Galway clearly resent the centralised decision-making through Croke Park but their current format is far too lenient and forgiving, with 14 teams progressing through to the knockout stages. After four rounds and 49 games (Castlegar and Killimordaly played last night), there are only three knockout positions still up for grabs. Loughrea are already through to the quarter-finals and will be joined by three from Turloughmore, St Thomas’, Cappatagle, Sarsfields or Clarinbridge, all of whom are through to the last 14.
In Senior B, Moycullen are also already through to a preliminary quarter-final, while Portumna, Ardrahan and Liam Mellows play for two promotion places, despite all three advancing as the third team will enter a play-off. In the other group, Oranmore-Maree, Athenry and Kilnadeema/Leitrim are vying for two of those final spots.
Despite all the big match-ups in Senior A, with St Thomas v Clarinbridge (last year’s finalists) being the standout fixture, there is only one knockout game taking place - Gort versus Craughwell tomorrow. A draw will do Craughwell but Gort, who have only won one game out of four to date, just need that second win to advance.
Only in Galway.
When Ramor United reclaimed the Oliver Plunkett Cup in Cavan for the first time since 2016 last November, running out deserving winners against Gowna in a replay, they set the tone in the opening quarter, having registered 1-7, which equalled their tally from the drawn match a week earlier.
The Virginia men led by nine points at half-time and, while Gowna did charge at them in the second half, James Brady broke away late on to fist over the insurance point as Ramor drove on to win by four.
Brady and Seán McEvoy made huge contributions in that match, with both accounting for 1-12 of Ramor’s total of 1-15. Yet Ramor’s bid to retain the title for the first time in their history has been seriously curtailed through the loss of both players; McEvoy is gone to the US while Brady is out with a torn ACL. Other injuries have taken their toll too. Matthew Magee has also missed the last three matches while Gareth Mannion has a broken bone in his hand.
Tomorrow afternoon, Ramor face Killygarry in the semi-final, with Killygarry having squeezed past Kingscourt by one point in the quarter-final in the game of the championship. The sides have already met this season when they drew in a dead rubber. But with an in-form Killygarry team trying to reach and win a first county title, a depleted Ramor United will need everything they have – and more – to hold on to their title.
Mangan and his players looking to taste final victory at last When Castletown-Geoghegan dethroned Raharney in the recent Westmeath hurling semi-final, it moved Alan Mangan, the Castletown-Geoghegan boss, one step closer to a precious county title he has been chasing for years as a manager; Mangan also managed Tyrrellspass to county football finals in 2016 and 2017, when they lost to St Loman’s.
Winning with Castletown-Geoghegan though, would be special for a number of reasons, especially with the club having lost the last three county finals, all by just one score. Two of those defeats were to Clonkill, tomorrow’s final opponents, with the 2020 defeat coming after extra-time.
Mangan, who was Westmeath’s top scorer when they defeated Laois to win their only Leinster senior football title in 2004, was always regarded as an excellent dual player, both for club and county. Mangan has already won senior hurling titles with Castletown—Geoghegan. But to lead them back to the top now after three successive final defeats would be extra special.
Because Castletown-Geoghegan – and Mangan – are tired of losing finals.