Sarsfields passed a searching test of their Munster Club senior hurling championship credentials at Kilmallock on Sunday where they emerged three points winners over the Limerick title-holders in a tense, spell-binding, encounter.
Kilmallock’s compact arena was no place for the faint-hearted on Sunday. A very physical approach by the home side in the first half, driven on by their large following, asked huge questions of the Tipperary champions, but The Blues contingent had the answers, and while their supporters were relieved to hear the final whistle, there was no denying that Sarsfields were the better side.
Two years ago these sides again met at this venue, and Sarsfields were lucky enough to shade the verdict against an emerging Kilmallock team. Both suffered disappointment last year, but were back again seeking the Munster crown. Sarsfields knew from 2010 what was facing them, and their hosts did not disappoint with some very heavy “hits” in a robust first half that saw four of the Kilmallock boys on yellow cards.
Sarsfields composure in such a tense atmosphere, and the quality of their defending all through, with Padraig Maher outstanding, were crucial, as they twice forged five point leads only to have them cut to the minimum by the home side. However, Sarsfields got two goals, one in each half, and it was these which ultimately proved the difference between the sides.
Three points from midfielder Paudie O Brien in the opening three minutes underlined the determination of the Kilmallock lads to reverse the 2010 decision, Lar Corbett having landed a beauty for Sarsfields after only a matter of seconds. Pa Bourke followed with a brace of points, one from play, to leave all things square after a hectic opening eight minutes.
With the backs dominating, scores became scarce. Pa Bourke and Kilmallock’s Robbie Egan swapped points in the following eight minutes but in the eighteenth minute Sarsfields struck a huge blow when, after Michael O Brien was grounded going through, Pa Bourke lashed the free, from just outside the twenty metre mark, to the net. Psychologically it was an immense boost for Sarsfields who showed great maturity and composure in the face of intense pressure. Scoring chances were in short supply, but Kilmallock indiscretions were punished by the accuracy of Pa Bourke and Johnny Enright(2) from frees to Eoin Ryan’s sole reply for Kilmallock, also from a free, leaving Sarsfields ahead 1-7 to 0-5 at the break, after a tempestuous first half.
If Kilmallock had made things hot and heavy for Sarsfields in the first half, when they resumed, they showed the quality of their hurling with five points to Sarsfields only response from Lar Corbett in the opening ten minutes. The five points interval lead was down to one. Sarsfields backs were to the wall and the momentum was with the home team.
Sarsfields’ “bottle” was now put to the test, and as Manager Seamus Quinn declared afterwards – these lads have lots of character. Character was needed and “big men” had to stand up and be counted. Johnny Enright pointed a long range free and then, in the best move of the game in the 43rd minute, Denis Maher set up Michael O Brien, whose surging run drew the Kilmallock defence before parting to Lar Corbett who finished as only he can. The five points lead was restored – 2-9 to 0-10.
But Kilmallock were not about to roll over. Again they came at Sarsfields, with three Eoin Ryan points and another from Kevin O Donnell, to cut the lead to a point once more with six minutes to play.
The tension was unbearable. In the 56th minute Michael O Brien, always a threat in the right corner, set up Denis Maher for a relieving point, quickly cancelled by Shane O Donnell for Kilmallock. People were asking about the possibility of extra time but Lar Corbett almost killed the question with a typical run, but a hook by Kilmallock fullback Philip O Loughlin took the sting out of this shot which was scrambled away in the 59th minute.
Michael O Brien pointed to give Sars some breathing space but then, in injury time, a Gavin O Mahoney free into the Sarsfields goal was met by a flying Kilmallock stick and whizzed wide. Such relief for the Blues brigade as a goalthen would surely have ended their crusade. A minute later, Padraig Maher picked out cousin Pa Bourke with a neat pass which the county man swept sweetly over the bar.
And that was how it stayed.
Sarsfields players, management, and fans were delighted with the result and justifiably so. More than hurling skill and teamwork was needed to win this game. Courage under fire was the key element in the victory, and this the winners had in abundance in a truly memorable performance. No one personified this more than team captain Padraig Maher who led by example all through with a performance that elevates him into the echelons of those special Tipperary centre halfbacks of previous generations. Maher was supreme, but he had great men around him, David Kennedy, and Michael Cahill forming a halfback partnership that Kilmallock found very hard to breach. Behind them Kevin O Gorman also had “ a stormer”, with David Maher and Stephen Maher until injured, and Barry O Dwyer afterwards, ensuring that goalie Patrick McCormack had a comparatively stress-free afternoon.
Despite conceding inches and weight to their opponents, Sarsfields midfielders Johnny Enright and Michael Gleeson got through an enormous amount of work, but things were not as encouraging up front, where a resolute Kilmallock defence made life very difficult for the Thurles attack. In this regard, the experience of Pa Bourke and Lar Corbett was vital, their goals making all the difference, while Michael O Brien also had a good outing. Ger “Redser” O Grady made a favourable impact when introduced, again his experience in the heat of battle, proving very valuable.
Jim Corbett had a difficult task against Limerick defender Gavin O Mahoney but tried hard as did Denis Maher, who contributed to a number of the Sarsfields scores as well as gaining a valuable point. Aidan McCormack was tightly marked all through and got little chance to repeat his county final heroics. John Maher and Richie Ruth made their contribution when they came on late in the game.
Kilmallock are a formidable side, all the more so when on home soil. Philip O Loughlin, Gavin O Mahoney, Paudie O Brien, Eoin Ryan and Shane O Donnell were very influential.
Sarsfields- Patrick McCormack; Stephen Maher, Kevin O Gorman, David Maher; David Kennedy, Padraig Maher, Michael Cahill; Michael Gleeson, Johnny Enright(0-3); Pa Bourke(1-5), Jim Corbett, Lar Corbett(1-2); Michael O Brien(0-1), Denis Maher(0-1), Aidan McCormack; Subs- Barry O Dwyer for S Maher; Ger OGrady for J Corbett; John Maher for Enright; Richie Ruth for A McCormack;
KIlmallock – Barry Hennesy; Liam Hurley, Philip O Loughlin, Kevin O Mahoney; Liam Walsh, Gavin O Mahoney, Bryan O Sullivan; Robbie Egan(0-1), Paudie O Brien(0-3); Jake Mulcahy, Paudie O Dwyer(0-1), Eoin Ryan(0-6); Graeme Mulcahy, Kevin O Donnell(0-1), Shane O Donnell(0-3) Sub- Kieran Kenneally for J Mulcahy;
Ref- Colm Lyons, Cork;
“Character” Shines Through – Quinn
Sarsfields manager, Seamus Quinn, was full of praise for “the character” of his team after their heart-stopping victory over Kilmallock on Sunday.
“The win was all about the “character” of this team and we showed it again today. We did so in the county final and even more in this game. We want to represent the town and the county with pride . The lads did this today. Their “character” shines through, and we hope we can do it again the next day”, he said.
Looking to the future Seamus added that his philosophy right through the campaign was to take each game as it comes. “We have done that from the beginning, and right now we are looking no further than the semi-final with Cork Sarsfields”, he said.