Padraig Maher supreme as Sarsfields dig deep to overcome Kilmallock

Munster Club SHC 1st Round

Munster Club SHC 1st Round

Thurles Sarsfields 2-12 Kilmallock 0-15

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.

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, 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 18th 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 goal then 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- 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 O’Grady 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;

Referee- Colm Lyons, Cork.