Grit and steel seals the deal for Thurles CBS

Thurles CBS 2-12 Rochestown College 1-12

Thurles CBS 2-12 Rochestown College 1-12

This was a true test of character of the Thurles lads and they came up trumps when it mattered as they recovered from a dismal third quarter to face the train for The Premier County and board it with the prestigious, and much sought after silverware, in their possession.

Rochestown College fired everything they had at the champions in the concluding stages, but they met with a resolute defence which conceeded no score in the final ten minutes, while at the other end of the field, Thurles created four points from play to seal the deal.

Wow, what an atmosphere in Mallow and what support for the Thurles lads. They came from all over Tipperary to cheer them on - mind you there was representation from each of the four divisions in the squad and while the official attendance was clocked at just under 2,000, the reality is that there were many more present to witness a cracking final on what was a great day for the famed hurling nursery, and for Tipperary.

Rochestown were wind assisted in the first half and for periods they looked though they would overrun Thurles who were sluggish in the opening quarter. Points from Sean Powter and Shane Kingston had them off to a flier, but Niall Heffernan - unerring from placed balls all day long for Thurles - and Paul Kennedy had scores to level things up. Ciaran Cormack pointed too for Rochestown and he bagged a fine goal in the 10th minute when he caught a long delivery, powered his way through and blasted past the helpless Willie Tierney in the Thurles goal. It was a fine goal and it put daylight between the sides.

Thurles’ gritty nature shone through again and just when it seemed as though they might be in a bit of bother, they reacted. Niall Heffernan pointed again, but Shane Kingston cancelled this effort, before Thurles captain Ronan Teehan struck a beauty off the stick.

Then, a key moment. Robbie Long nipped in to rob the defence, passed across to Niall Heffernan and the Moycarkey Borris man made no mistake with a fine goal in the 17th minute - a real shot in the arm and a score which ignited the Thurles support in Mallow. Referee Damien Fox had played a good advantage to Heffernan who was fouled en-route to shooting, but was still given the chance to rattle the net. Good refereeing from a man who generally let the game run, but could perhaps have been a little more whistle happy at times. Thurles came out the wrong side of the free count in this one.

Shane Kingston and Ciaran Cormack shoved Rochestown in front again, but just as in the second half, they were to fail to score again in the quarter, while Thurles advanced their cause with scores before the whistle.

Robbie Long flashed over a point after a fine save from Rochestown keeper Andrew Cullinane denied him a goal in the initial attack. Then, Niall Heffernan pointed a free after he was fouled himself, before Long added another having taken a lovely crossfield pass from the in-form Paul Kennedy - a man who was hurling very well at a time when Thurles were not really motoring early on.

The decisive score though came a minute from half time, when Ronan Teehan found Billy McCarthy with a pass and the Sars’ man blasted Thurles into a four point lead - 2-7 to 1-6 - which they were to carry into the second half.

Thurles were well pleased with their interval advantage. They had hurled only in patches and looked at times as though they could be vulnerable. But, despite giving away much in terms of physicality - perhaps this accounted for many of the frees being awarded against them - Thurles were a better balanced side and seemed to work more progressively as a unit.

So, Thurles would play wind assisted in the second half. But, anyone who felt that this would result in a big advantage was mistaken. Rochestown could smell the ink as they bidded to pen history - they were ready to write the script.

With an extra man deployed in defence the Cork lads were determined to ‘mind the house’ at all costs. And, despite the numerical disadvantage up front, they created the scores to restore parity by the end of the third quarter.

Rain greeted the players as they made their way out for the second half and it poured for Thurles too as Rochestown fired over four points without reply. Ciaran Cormack started it off and also struck the third, with Shane Kingston and Daniel Meaney chipping in for good measure.

Thurles needed something and they got it in the form of Niall Heffernan pointed free in the 15th - a pressure free which he landed with ease. Ciaran Cormack though was to shove Rochestown in front with two points with ten minutes to go, but, as in the first half, they were over run in the closing stages - a symptom perhaps of their chasing of multiple titles?

Billy McCarthy, who finished the game very strongly, levelled the game in the 24th after taking a pass from Niall Heffernan and he then struck a massive score two minutes later to restore the Thurles advantage. Kevin Duggan came good with a beauty as Thurles found ways to by-pass the extra man in defence, and then sub Michael Connors snatched the insurance point in the 30th - Rochestown would now need a goal, to draw level.

The goal they craved might have materialised back in the 18th minute when Shane Kingston, their danger man, raced down on goal and unloaded, only to see the excellent Willie Tierney stand up to the challenge and beat the effort away. Roshestown, thereafter were not to get a shot on goal and even as they came with everything in the dying embers of the game, there was to be no surrender on the part of the Thurles men - their determination perhaps illustrated by Niall Heffernan who dragged Kingston to the ground out around the 40 and suffer a second yellow card, rather than allow him to progress towards more lethal territory.

The joy which greeted the final whistle had to be witnessed. It was simply one of those seminal moments which will live long in the memory and for those privileged to have been there it was very special indeed. Thurles had looked the challengers in the eye, met their stare and shut the door to their bold and brave attempt to win a first Harty Cup and sample the kind of euphoria previously experienced in mid Tipperary on seven occasions.

The Thurles squad has joined a special band of brothers - Harty Cup winners - a prestigious list indeed and something they will come to appreciate more in time. The victory in 2009 bridged a huge gap going back to 1956, but the final itself was well won by half time. Last Saturday was different - a hard fought, dog-eat-dog game which went right down to the whitewash. It was bodies on the line stuff and when the manliness was called for, Thurles had it in spades.

Tom Hayes and Chris McCullagh formed a great half back line with the impressive Jack Skehan; Cathal Moloney and Paul Kennedy worked so hard at midfield; the full back line of Quirke, Enda Heffernan and Derby were under pressure but limited their opponents to just 0-2 in the hour - not bad going at all.

In attack, Billy McCarthy - a doubtful starter with a dodgy AC joint - came good when required, while Niall Heffernan was sure and confident from frees and placed balls. Kevin Duggan, Ronan Teehan, and Robbie Long chipped in with vital scores as did Michael Connors when he came on, while Jack Butler worked hard on preventing clearance opportunities for Rochestown. Willie Tierney’s excellent save was crucial - a game turning moment certainly.

All told, this was a superb squad victory, masterminded by Martin Maher, Niall Cahill, John Devane and their back-up team. Each and every one of them can take a well deserved bow before straightening up and planning for the All-Ireland Colleges championship.

Rochestown cannot be ruled out for that championship either. They will feel that they had the chances to progress, but failed to take them. In Shane Kingston and Ciaran Cormack, they had two fine attackers. However, the decision to play John Cashman at full back rather than centre perhaps backfired - he did the job on the edge of the square, but his considerable influence was missed further outfield. Others prominent for them were John O’Sullivan, Sean Powter and captain David Griffin.

Teams and Scorers:

Thurles CBS: W Tierney (Sars), D Quirke (Clonoulty Rossmore), J Derby (Sars), T Hayes (Moycarkey Borris), J Skehan (Holycross Ballycahill), C McCullagh (Moycarkey Borris), P Kennedy 0-1 (Drom-Inch), C Moloney (Sars), N Heffernan 1-4 (Moycarkey Borris), K Duggan 0-1 (Galmoy), B McCarthy 1-2 (Sars), J Butler (Upperchurch Dormbane), R Teehan 0-1 (Gortnahoe Glengoole), R Long 0-2 (Drom-Inch). Subs: M Connors 0-1 (Drom-Inch) for J Butler; R Purcell (Sars) for Moloney.

Rochestown College: A Cullinane, D Murphy, J Cashman, N Walsh, D Kelleher, D Griffin, C Sheehan, E O’Brien, J O’Sullivan, C Cormack 1-6, D O’Mahony, S Kingston 0-4, D Meaney 0-1, S Powter 0-1, L O’Sullivan. Subs: K O’Donoghue for C Sheehan; M McAuliffe for L O’Sullivan; J Holland for D O’Mahony.

Referee: D Fox (Clare).

Left: Thurles CBS midfielder Billy McCarthy fires his sides second goal in Dr Harty Cup Final, while above is the victorious panel.

Photos by John O’Loughlin.