The icing on the cake this for Thurles Sarsfields, whose under 21 hurlers annexed county honours at Boherlahan on Sunday, defeating a gutsy Clonoulty-Rossmore 0-15 to 0-12 in a fine contest, thereby scooping the two premier hurling titles in the county, having already captured the senior crown, and added the Munster club pennant for the first time, for good measure.
Boasting seven of the players who figured in the Munster Club final win over De LaSalle, Waterford, Sarsfields were favourites to complete this special double, but Clonoulty-Rossmore rose to the challenge with courage and no little quality. The outcome was a game worthy of the final, Sarsfields superior finishing power shading the verdict for them.
The Thurles lads also benefitted from a more testing path to the final, the games against Loughmore-Castleiney in the Mid final and Kilruane MacDonagh in the county semi-final, helping them to reach championship pitch, whereas Clonoulty-Rossmore were not asked enough questions as they came through the West and county semi-final against Killenaule.
For the time of year, and in the conditions prevailing, the Boherlahan pitch was in reasonable fettle. Clonoulty-Rossmore were favoured by the fresh breeze blowing into the church end, and set about establishing a match-winning lead by the interval. However, dogged defending by Sarsfields limited their opportunities and the Thurles lads actually led at the end of the first quarter, 0-4 to 0-3.
Stephen Cahill and Michael Russell were commanding figures for Sars at midfield, Russell, the team captain, notching two of the yearly points with Cian Treacy and Cahill the others. Martin Sadlier, Conor Hammersley, from a free, and Kevin Maher were on target for Clonoulty, who were finding it hard to settle into a rhythm.
Conor Lanigan had a good goal chance for Sarsfields in the 17th minute but Clonoulty goalie Jimmy Maher was equal to the challenge. From here to the break, the West champions were on top, but the scoreboard did not reflect this. Instead, they had to rely on three Conor Hammersley frees for scores, and a lead of two points, approaching the break. Denis Maher responded for Sarsfields, before, in injury time, Sean Maher, Clonoulty’s most influential forward, gave them a 0-7 to 0-5 advantage at the interval.
It was not a lead to inspire confidence, with the elements to face in the second half, but yet, Clonoulty had finished the first half well, a fact which would have given them heart as they chased their first county title at this level.
An early Sean Maher point got them off on the right foot and set the tone for them in the second half but it was cancelled in the 33rd minute by a Stephen Cahill effort for Sarsfields.
Michael O’Brien, always looking dangerous with his darting runs, was foiled by a timely hook by Clonoulty’s Niall Shanahan when a goal seemed ”on” a minute later, Sarsfields consolation being Aidan McCormack’s converting of the sixty five, and he quickly levelled the game, with a neat strike off Conor Lanigan’s smartly taken line ball.
Sarsfields were on top but Clonoulty showed what they were made of as Conor Hammersely again nudged them ahead from a 40th minute free. Tommy Doyle levelled for Sarsfields before Patrick Hennessy restored the West’s one point advantage as the last quarter began. Clonoulty were battling stubbornly and matching their rivals every surge but now the Thurles lads pushed for home.
Denis Maher levelled the game in the 48th minute, and three Aidan McCormack points from frees moved them clear with five minutes to play. Again Hammersley kept Clonoulty hopes alive with a point from a free, but further points by Stephen Cahill and Aidan McCormack had Sarsfields four ahead as the game went into injury time.
Martin Sadlier opted for a point from a fifty metre free to cut the lead to a single score, but they did not get time to build on this and Sarsfields were deserving winners as Keith Delahunty called time.
The win brought the curtain down in style on what has been a great season for Sarsfields, and with so many of the side breaking into the club’s successful senior combination, a bright future beckons. The victory also marked a great year for team coach, Paddy Moore, who earlier steered Silvermines to county intermediate and Munster Club honours, and who, like Sarsfields, are now in the hunt for All-Ireland club honours.
This title did not come easily, the key contributors to the success on Sunday being David Maher, Stephen Maher, Michael O’Dwyer, Stephen Cahill, Michael Russell, Denis Maher, Conor Lanigan and Michael O’Brien.
Clonoulty-Rossmore badly missed the injured Thomas Butler and one can only speculate what his presence would have meant to them. However, this was a side full of guts and not lacking in skill but on this day, they came up just short of their highly rated opponents. Like Sarsfields, there is a bright future ahead of this combination who look set to maintain the club’s dominance of affairs in the West division for some time to come. Sean Maher, Padraig Heffernan, Ciaran Quirke, Shaun Coffey and Martin Sadlier all worked extremely hard while Conor Hammersley’s accuracy from frees, ensured they were in the hunt to the very end.
Sarsfields – Myles Fitzgerald; Pa Dunne, Rory O’Shea, David Maher; Stephen Maher, Ronan Maher, Michael O’Dwyer; Stephen Cahill(0-3), Michael Russell(0-2); Aidan McCormack(0-6, 5fs), Denis Maher(0-2), Tommy Doyle(0-1); Conor Lanigan, Michael O’Brien, Cian Treacy(0-1); Subs- Pa Crone for Doyle; Dylan Burke for Lanigan;
Clonoulty-Rossmore – Jimmy Maher; Shaun Coffey, Niall Shanahan, Kieran Ryan; Ciaran Quirke, Padraig Heffernan, James Horan; Martin Sadlier(0-2, 1f), Kevin Maher(0-1); Sean Maher(0-2), Aaron Ryan, Aidan White; Conor Hammersley(0-6, 6fs), Paul Hayes, Patrick Hennessy(0-1); Sub- James Ryan for A Ryan;
Ref- Keith Delahunty.