Question: when does a defeat feel almost like a victory?
Answer: when Loughmore/Castleiney defy adversity to come within a whisker of a famous Munster club win.
The record will show a two-point win for Na Piarsaigh but for most people leaving Tom Semple’s field on Sunday last the abiding feeling was one of admiration for Loughmore’s heroic effort. Even Sean Stack, manager of the Limerick champions, was effusive in his praise for the Tipperary opposition afterwards.
Let’s put events into context. For most of this season Loughmore have been without midfielder, Liam Treacy. They then lost centre back, Eddie Connolly, to illness after the county semi-final. Their football defeat of Commercials cost them two more defenders – wing back Aidan McGrath and corner back, Joseph Hennessy. That’s four of your first fifteen unavailable.
Factor in then the dismissal of full back, Derek Bourke, just four minutes into the action and a repeat performance with wing back, Willie Eviston, early in the second half and you’d expect that this would be a cruise for the 2011 Munster champions from Limerick.
But it was anything but a cruise as verified by Shane Dowling’s admission afterwards that they got out of jail with David Dempsey’s winning goal a minute from full time. In a sense this was vintage Loughmore defying the laws of physics. Most other sides would simply bow to the inevitable but the Tipp champions somehow found a resolve that came within inches of pulling off an unbelievable outcome.
The sending offs were critical, Cork referee McAllister applying the letter of the law for any dunts or digs off the ball. Technically the official was correct but it’s the old bugbear of inconsistency that leaves people head scratching. If this standard, for example, had been applied in the replayed county semi-final between Nenagh and Kildangan at least four or five players would have been red carded. So we have the same rules for all referees but vastly different enforcement standards being applied.
Derek Bourke’s dismissal and a bright opening quarter from Na Piarsaigh against the strong wind was sending this game one-way; after twenty minutes the visitors looked comfortable, leading by eight-to-five. However, Loughmore have been slow to start in games recently and this pattern was again in evidence on Sunday. In the reshuffle after the dismissal of Derek Bourke they recalled David Kennedy to his old centre back berth and positioned John Meagher at number three. Gradually The Tipp champs worked their way into the contest and then unleashed a fantastic surge in the final ten minutes of the half, outscoring their opponents in that spell by 1-6 to nil.
Noel McGrath’s influence was central to the spurt and Liam McGrath once more produced a moment of magic into the town goal. It put the home team six-up at the break and still ‘alive’ in the contest despite the numerical disadvantage. The opening moments of the second half were dramatic. A free to Loughmore seemed to offer the chance of another point from out to the right of the Killinan end but Liam McGrath spotted an un-marked Cian Hennessy in front of the posts and tapped across to him for an opportunistic goal. Hennessy followed with an immediate point and the home side was suddenly ten-up against a bewildered opposition. The home cheers though were short lived, an immediate raid by Na Piarsaigh saw Kevin Downes supply the finish for a cancelling goal. More crucially Willie Eviston’s reaction brought another red card and now Loughmore were down to thirteen.
Five minutes later the lead was cut to just four points with David Dempsey’s first goal for the Limerick men and with the wind in their faces Loughmore now faced an enormous struggle to stay ahead in this contest.
The fact that they succeeded in staying in front for the next twenty minutes is a tribute to the grim determination of the side. In the end another Dempsey goal broke Loughmore hearts just a minute from full time and a huge Shane Dowling free kept the margin at two as we went deeper into added time. Ultimately a late free failed to bring redemption for the Tipp side who were left to ponder the consequences of those lapses in discipline which cost them dearly.
Individually Noel McGrath was the leading light. There’s no doubt this campaign has altered perceptions of Noel, a player who shipped a lot of flak after the county’s championship exit in the summer. Not surprisingly he has just been named as Tipperary’s vice-captain for 2014 with Brendan Maher, as anticipated, being nominated as captain. It’s fitting recognition for a player who has led his club bravely in recent weeks.
In the leadership role too for Loughmore was David Kennedy. He certainly rolled back the years when moved to number six on Sunday with a typical ‘braveheart’ performance, one reminiscent of his role in the 2007 season. Others to stand apart were John Meagher, Tom King, Ciaran McGrath, John McGrath and Liam McGrath though the entire panel deserves huge credit.
The Holycross decision not to appeal the county minor hurling final result seems to have consigned that episode to history though the bitter tang it has left won’t so easily dissipate. Even within the Holycross camp there appears to be major friction with one section irate at the decision to let the issue lie. I suppose an element of embarrassment over the introduction of the dry ball has influenced their decision to let the issue pass. Time wasting we’re now told will be the official justification for the referee’s decision on that late, late free. Indeed. Teams waste time when they’re clinging to a marginal lead and want to count down the clock; nobody wastes time when trailing by a point with only seconds remaining. But for the sake of debate here let’s assume that the Holycross mentor wasted some seconds by bringing in a new ball and tossing the old one out behind the goal. Was the referee then justified in cancelling the free?
Let me present a parallel scenario. Imagine a free is awarded against Clare and an irate Davy Fitzgerald remonstrates furiously with the referee (doesn’t take much imagination does it?)
Is the official then entitled to move the free forward in response to Davy’s dissent? Of course not. A referee surely cannot award, alter or cancel a free on the basis of something a sideline intruder does. He can report the official, even send him up into the stand, but not change a playing decision.
Sadly at all levels this year bad refereeing calls have hogged the limelight.