August varies the September sequence. For the first time in a decade we face Kilkenny in a semi-final. It’ll be no less intense than the three successive deciders. Galway v Cork a Sunday earlier will have its own attraction. Altogether, despite media downplaying of the whole championship after Kilkenny’s League win and dismissal of Dublin, the series has had high merit. The quarters at the Stadium, drawing close to forty thousand and giving excellent competitive value, were a tremendous occasion as Cork came late from a bad position and the Cats had to wait for the second half to leave Limerick terminally trailing. Locally, the Mid final went way against expectations of closeness - a fine attendance brought home the memory of a tour-de-force by Pa Bourke. Only Aidan McCormack’s late goal infringed a possible monopoly. Pa’s half dozen has no known precedent, to this writer’s knowledge, at any rate.
So, of course, it’s Kilkenny - who ever really envisaged a second tumble for the Cats? The best that realistically might transpire was a spirited bid by Limerick, the worst was prompt breaching of their defence and a settled issue. Fair play to John Allen’s brigade, they came out like a bold version of Galway’s eagerness and drive, a number of early physical drives typifying their intent. The Breen goal recalled the Tribesmen’s prompt lodgment and took the favourites aback. Could another sensation be possible? The revoking of a Power “point” and the awarding of one that keeper Herity seemed to have brought down were little added hints in that direction. The suggestion proved misleading and the “King” was the man to rebut it in short order. His first goal had a tinge of ill-fortune for the Limerick defence - as “Buggy’s” important one had for Tipp. back in May. ‘Keeper Quaid was unlucky not to smother the sliotar with his dive into the mix of players but the break fell for Shefflin’s fast reaction. When he artfully spun Colin Fennelly’s high lay-off over the advanced goalie, all idea of serious interim problems for them had faded, even if a one-up lead at the break might be vulnerable when Limerick turned to have wind advantage towards town. Within the third quarter, the battle was over. The Cats defence and midfield, uneasy for much of the first period, had found the necessary tightening up and the Killinan net had bulged from Fogarty and Colin Fennelly insertions after swift deliveries left them facing a helpless Quaid. Add five points to those margins against nil from the shape losing Limerick attack and the emphatic nature of the champions’ thrust is evident. Later efforts to chip away at the large lead were defied by such as Tommy Walsh and J.J. Delaney with a panache that delighted their following. The loses of Richie Power with a damaged shoulder and Richie Hogan on a red card for an unwise pull were readily shrugged off. The consensus, more or less, that the Cats were rather below their absolute best and had unexpected problems for half the game, is not going to bull us into expecting flaws to be repeated, it’ll have to be Tipp. merits at a maximum if the 2002 outcome is not to be repeated. Both Galway and, to a degree, Limerick have taught the lesson of an aggressive beginning on August 19th, and sustained tempo to follow. Tipp. minors play Galway on the same bill of fare. It’ll be a day with a near final feeling about it.
The opening game, nobody thought it any sort of curtain raiser - was ultimately a genuinely stirring Decies v Rebels affair. At three ahead Waterford had the look of winners and Jimmy Barry’s year due to end in let-down. His many substitutions had a touch of hopeful desperation. In retrospect, they’ve been lauded as inspired! All five brought benefit in launching their successful retort to the extent of seven of the last eight points to prevail by three. None was greeted as loudly as Sean Og’s long one, his first half problems with Mullone put behind him in a driving last quarter. The speedy Sweetnam laid on a couple on his arrival. The equally fast Naughton had begun the recovery. The Decies spurned two late goal chances that could have saved them from a hard to take defeat out of which they came with high credit. Could be that Cork will be the tougher proposition for Galway in a rivalry that has ample and colourful tradition behind it. We’ll watch with huge interest and the devout hope of involvement with the victors.
The fourth round, a stage hardly imaginable at the outset of the Qualifiers, brought Tipp. footballers’ prolonged presence to an end in Mullingar at the hands and feet of Ulster runners-up Down. Five down for Tipp. was by common consent of reports and by the “Paddy and Walty Show” on Tipp. FM! - harsh upon our representatives, who conceded a vital goal well into added minutes before the break. To get within three points late in the game kept hope flickering and indicated fine spirit in Peter Creedon’s squad. Our prospects now lie with the admirable minors, who meet Mayo on the three tier Croke Park bill this Saturday.
So, circuitously, to Templemore, actually that’s how I got there via Bohernanave and other uncharted by-ways in order to avoid the Thurles congestion after the big games. The evening was lit by the declining sun, the attendance was large and expectant of excitement. Loughmore’s form in trouncing county champions Drom-Inch sent them into it with high profile, while Sars had clearly sharpened up on last season’s moderate standard. Big names added glamour to the issue - Tipp. progress being a further aid to club affairs. What we saw was extraordinary and almost reminiscent of how Tipp. demolished Waterford last year - to the extent of seven goals from runaway winners. As a contest it was killed off before a quarter had been played and the free taking of Pa Bourke the source of the demise. He perhaps surprised the Loughmore line by going for a goal off the first free. Its success made the second bid more likely, while his third try was well advertised. A fourth set the upright ringing behind a beaten brigade, sparing further blushes, but Pa hadn’t finished or confined himself to the set-piece routine, pouncing for another two as Sars not only played to town but “went to town” for 5-7 in the half and fourteen ahead. His eventual sixth off a “Redsar” provision was slipped in neatly to bring a nice symmetry to his amazing haul.
How to explain the demolition of a side seen by most as credible county contenders? Freakish and set up by those converted frees and a discouraging, even stunning start for the opposition? The Blues were in exhibition mode through the field. The losers had no feasible target to play for, right away and will have to regard it as an untypical day at the office. Sars’ prestige will soar but they, too, will see it in realistic terms, after welcoming another Mid title.
Tipp. are, of course, on track for a clean sweep of all the Munster championships in the code after beating Clare in the Intermediate last midweek at Nenagh. The Banner stand in the way of such ambitions, all the more since the Under 21 will be in Ennis on August 8th. The fixture recalls the almighty flare up of argument after Pa Bourke’s free beat Clare the last time we were there, an umpire’s call on a puck out by the home goalie wiped out a Clare “21” which would have won the game. Also sharp in memory was the steamed up atmosphere of a previous encounter at Cusack Park in the same grade. We have a capable enough side this time but will do very well to repeat those earlier successes.
Boherlahan’s win over Holycross in the O’Riain event leaves the latter seeking senior survival in the company of Upperchurch, Knockavilla and Aherlow. The Mid pair ought come through the process but will need concentration and competitive urge to justify one’s confidence. Borrisoleigh and Drom-Inch have advanced in the County series after wins over Kilruane and Moneygall at the weekend. Mullinahone’s victory over Swans in the South final was marked by some encouraging flag raising by Eoin Kelly and a good showing from panellist Sean Curran.