Thurles Sarsfields captain Pádraic Maher pictured accepting the Dan Breen Cup from County Board chairman Michael Bourke. Photo: Eamonn McGee
Thurles Sarsfields are the quintessential championship team - the Blues are powerfully immune to defeat on the Tipperary club hurling scene. You do not, however, happen upon such a relentless force by accident - hurling supporters need to realise that this group of players are putting in an extraordinary effort to realise their potential. And, that was a point that team captain Pádraic Maher wished to make in the wake of Sunday’s 1-24 to 0-11 county final win over Borris-Ileigh.
“People just have to understand that we are working as hard as anybody. This is not happening by accident and just because we have a few talented players does not mean that they (county titles) are going come to you. We really understand that and we don’t take any of these (titles) for granted. We will enjoy this as much as the last one because we don’t know when this is going to end. This might be the last one - we just don’t know,” a thrilled Pádraic Maher told the Tipperary Star.
And, just look at the road that the Thurles Sarsfields club has travelled. Right now big day performances are hard-wired into the Blues, but it was not always so. For decades the finger was pointed at Thurles - the opposition thought the Blues could be got at. Now the opposite is their calling card - the mentality of the entire club has been transformed.
Take Sunday’s county final against Borris-Ileigh - once more Thurles Sarsfields were faced with a challenger ravenous for success. Johnny Kelly’s men carried significant momentum and a series of potent weapons into the decider at Semple Stadium. The defending champions, however, had their homework done and delivered a sensational performance. Thurles Sarsfields quashed Borris-Ileigh’s attacking threat and then unfurled their own attacking game to devastating effect.
Borris-Ileigh must have been encouraged early on when level with the champions, but, just then, in the 12th minute Pádraic Maher dispossessed Conor Kenny, soloed toward the middle of the field and landed a point off his right to earn his side a 0-3 to 0-2 advantage. That score felt like the full stop at the end of a sentence.
Thurles Sarsfields added seven more points to their tally, held their opponents scoreless for eighteen minutes and led 0-9 to 0-2 by the 24th. The Blues led by just four at the break (0-11 to 0-7), but out-scored Borris-Ileigh 1-13 to 0-4 thereafter with Conor Stakelum’s goal in the 45th minute sealing the issue. And, as Pádraic Maher says, performances like this do not just happen - you have to do the work.
On Sunday Thurles Sarsfields became the first club to win a four-in-a-row since Toomevara (1998-2001) and Pádraic Maher revealed how privileged he felt to find himself as captain of such an extraordinary group of players.
“I have been lucky to be the captain of the team and I suppose I have also been lucky that it has been a good team. We have good players there at the moment and, look, it could very easily have been the other way around. I am very honoured to go up those steps and very honoured to lead the club. We are very privileged to be in the position that we are for the last number of years, but we work very hard for it. And, we are absolutely thrilled with that there today,” Pádraic Maher told the Tipperary Star.
“I felt that in the first twenty minutes that everything was working to plan. We were snuffing out their big guys and for the last ten minutes (of the first half) we took the foot off the pedal and they started to get a couple of scores. And, the crowd started to get behind them. They had a bit of a lift going in at half-time and, if anything, I think that kind of tuned us in a bit more at half-time. In the last few games we slackened off after half-time, but I think that really set the tone for us in the second half. The boys came out and, in fairness, they worked very hard. And, I think the forwards got the scores that they deserved after all of their hard work.”
The Thurles Sarsfields players pictured celebrating Sunday's famous win over Borris-Ileigh. Photo: Eamonn McGee
MUNSTER CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP
In the wake of Sunday’s terrific performance Thurles Sarsfields will be favoured to progress in the Munster club championship - the Tipperary champions are away to their Waterford counterparts in a provincial quarter-final on the week-ending Sunday, October 29th (Ballygunner, Lismore, De La Salle and Passage are still in contention down south).
“It is important for us to get back in to training on Tuesday night and prepare for the Waterford champions. I suppose when you are after winning four county finals people look at the team and say, well, what did they do after that? So, it would be great if we could push on another level or two and see what happens after that,” Pádraic Maher explained before revealing that the challenge of playing sides like the Waterford champions is what every player dreams of. The challenge is what nourishes the truly ambitious players.
“It’s great - wouldn’t Borris-Ileigh bite your hand off for it? And, we are the same. We are looking forward to that challenge. We will really give it 110% - we want to drive on as a group and if we are good enough we are good enough,” Pádraic Maher added.