A man short for the last quarter, champions Loughmore-Castleiney surrendered their Cidona Tipperary senior football title, going under by a point to a gutsy Ardfinnan side at rain-lashed Cashel on Sunday.
Ardfinnan 1-5 Loughmore-Castleiney 1-4
The Mid men had every chance of securing their twelfth title in the grade but paid the penalty for some slack shooting and having the extra ground to cover in the last quarter in those energy sapping conditions.
Perhaps Loughmore-Castleiney were never destined to win the trophy this year. They were without the injured Paul Ormonde and the suspended Evan Sweeney, both hugely influential players, and on top of that saw James Egan forced out of the game at the end of the first quarter with a hamstring injury. Having to play out the last quarter on a heavy pitch with only fourteen players was the last straw but, even at that, they let a couple of chances to grab an equaliser slip by.
Ardfinnan, too, had their problems. In particular they would have liked to have had Brendan Cummins and Johnny English available to them but both were in Australia. However, on the day on which the club's last championship winning side was feted by the County Board at half-time, today's generation rose magnificently to the challenge to bring the trophy back to the parish for the first time in thirty-one years.
Make no mistake, Ardfinnan had to fight tooth and nail to secure victory. It's never any other way against Loughmore-Castleiney and the champions looked on course to retain their crown when they opened a two point lead early in the second half with the elements in their favour but they failed to maintain the surge and once Ardfinnan got half a chance they grabbed it with open arms.
The conditions were atrocious — driving rain and blustery winds decreed a possession game but ball-handling was most difficult and there were many mistakes. Ardfinnan, with the wind behind them, had the better of the first half exchanges but their tactic of using only two men in the full-forward line was curious considering the possession they enjoyed.
All the first half scoring was done inside twelve minutes. Ken O'Keeffe opened for Loughmore in the 5th minute; Peter Lambert and Terry Kearns' points had Ardfinnan ahead before James Egan levelled in the 12th minute. James Egan soon departed injured, to be replaced by Seamus Bohan but the remainder of the half was a tough battle for possession with much effort and energy devoted to carrying and hand-passing, and no scores being registered.
Ardfinnan were surely regretting some slack shooting at the break and the nearest they came to getting a goal was when a screamer from Peter Lambert skidded wide of the posts in injury time.
Advantage Loughmore-Castleiney at half-time and when Ken O'Keeffe and Ciaran McGrath had points inside six minutes of resuming, it appeared they were on track to win their first back-to-back titles. Peter Hally, who had a roving commission all day for Ardfinnan, pointed in the 10th minute but then things changed dramatically.
In the 12th minute Hally fetched from deep inside his own half, working the ball upfield before parting to Peter Lambert. He timed his release perfectly to find inrushing centre back, Hugh Bannon who sent a rocket to the corner of the Loughmore net for the lead for his side, 1-3 to 0-4.
Worse was to follow for Loughmore. Two minutes later Derek Bourke received his second yellow card and his marching orders, leaving his colleagues with an uphill struggle for the finish.
Loughmore were equal to it but some wayward shooting compounded their problems as Hally extended Ardfinnan's lead to a goal with a 22nd minute point.
More drama on the way however, as Noel Morris, not long in the game as a sub, appeared to get the vital touch in a goalmouth scramble for an equalising goal seven minutes from time.
Now it was a battle of nerves. Both sides pressed for a winner and both had their chances but Peter Lambert, Ardfinnan's player-manager, had the crucial say when, four minutes from the end, he used his considerable skill to great effect to shake off two tacklers before angling over a delightful winning point from a most difficult position.
Loughmore were not done yet but time was now against them and despite their best efforts, Ardfinnan held on for a victory that was greeted with absolute delight by their large band of followers.
Full marks to Ardfinnan for a brave showing but courage has been the hallmark of their performances this season and it did not desert them when they most needed it. Lambert was the hero of the hour with the winning point but all round they had many stars. The team's work rate was impressive as they supported each other by offering options and creating space on a day which demanded high fitness levels. No one personified this more than Peter Hally who had a stormer. Although lining out at right corner forward, he was everywhere and his ability to carry the ball played to set up colleagues a big part in this win.
Alan John Lonergan, Tony Ryan, captain, Michael Phelan and Thomas Maher also worked extremely hard.
It was a great disappointment for Loughmore-Castleiney who left Cashel believing that this was a championship they could have won. However, they put on a big show, gave everything and at the end could not be faulted for determination and effort but they paid a big price for some wasted chances. David Kennedy and Miceal Webster worked their socks off to turn the tide in their favour. Tom King, Ned Ryan, who did a fine job policing Ardfinnan dangerman, Peter Lambert, Edward Connolly and Paul Brennan were others to catch the eye.
Scorers for Ardfinnan — H Bannon 1-0; P Lambert, P Hally 0-2 each; T Kearns 0-1.
Loughmore-Castleiney scorers — N Morris 1-0; K O Keeffe 0-2; C McGrath and J Egan 0-1each.
Ardfinnan — Eamon Ryan; Tony Ryan, Alan John Lonergan, Kieran O'Brien; Michael Phelan, Hugh Bannon, Cathal Hennessy; Thomas Maher, Lorcan Bannon; Alan O'Gorman, Terry Kearns, John R Murphy; Peter Hally, Peter Lambert, Declan Walsh. Subs — Sean Maher for Hennessy; Michael English for O Gorman; James Hackett for Walsh;
Loughmore-Castleiney — Dominic Brennan; Gary Sweeney, Ned Ryan, Tommy Long; Tom King, David Kennedy, Edward Connolly; Miceal Webster, Paul Brennan; Ciaran McGrath, Martin Gleeson, Derek Bourke; James Egan, Ken O'Keeffe, Declan Laffin. Subs — Seamus Bohan for Egan; Noel Morris for Laffin.
Referee — Paddy Russell, Emly.