Defenders take control in western shoot-out
Craughwell 0-12 Sarsfields 0-12
If the background music in Galway hurling isn't very soothing for supporters who remain deeply concerned by off-field activities, yesterday's county final did nothing to improve their mood.
It ticked boxes marked 'competitive' and 'interesting' but left blanks under the various headings linked to creativity.
In fairness, the conditions in Kenny Park, Athenry were very demanding although not as tough as appeared likely before ugly, leaky clouds cleared shortly after midday.
Still, a sticky surface and a blustery wind combined as negative influences that left both sides struggling to reach the heights attained in their unexpected run to the final.
Add in the tension brought about by historical factors and you have the ingredients for a tense, low-scoring affair, which was what transpired.
Craughwell, bidding for their first county title for 85 years, trailed for much of the way before striking the front with an Alan Callanan point in the 55th minute.
Since they were playing with the wind, it looked as if they had timed their run to perfection but Sarsfields, who last won the title in 1997, dug in defiantly.
Their rescue came in the form of a pointed free from Niall Morrissey a minute later. The remaining minutes yielded no further score, with much of stoppage time producing nothing more that scramble-fests, involving large groups of players.
They had been an unwelcome feature all day, with referee John Keane allowing plenty of time for them to untangle before intervening with a throw-in.
It typified the overall texture so, in the circumstances, both sides were happy to get a second chance.
"I wasn't sorry to hear John Keane's whistle - that's for sure," said Craughwell manager Stephen Glennon.
"We're happy to be still in the championship," said Sarsfields selector Frances Madden.
Both sides will feel that their review sessions this week can help them gain an edge in a contest that seems destined for another tight finish next weekend.
No fewer than 13 of the 24 points came from frees, while neither goalkeeper had much to do other than taking puck-outs and dealing with long-range efforts that dropped short.
But then, the formations left no doubt about the respective priorities. It was all about maintaining a high degree of defensive security, even when playing with the wind.
The inevitable consequence was that defenders outnumbered attackers, which kept the total strike down to a level that would, quite often, be a first-half return.
Deploying a sweeper is now such a common theme in hurling that it appears the majority of teams in all grades assume it's an absolute imperative.
However, in the context of yesterday's game, you wonder if Sarsfields would have set Craughwell a higher half-time target if they were more adventurous in the first half.
And when Craughwell drew level in the 44th minute, would they have done better if they became more attack-minded? Both sides can contend that the end justified the means but they must also acknowledge that an 0-12 total loses more games than it wins.
Sarsfields' Joseph Cooney and Craughwell's Niall Healy, the two highest-profile players on the pitch, did their best to provide leadership but nearly always found themselves in heavy traffic.
It was level at 0-3 each at the end of the first quarter, before Sarsfields began to make better use of wind advantage. By half-time, they were five points ahead (0-8 to 0-3), leaving Craughwell facing a real challenge.
"We knew they were going to come at us in the second half. Craughwell don't die because they are five points behind," said Madden.
And so it went. Craughwell out-scored Sarsfields by 0-6 to 0-1 in the third quarter to draw level before Morrissey put the Bullaun-New Inn crew back in front.
It was a crucial score but Sarsfields had to face an even bigger test later on when they fell a point behind.
"We showed super character right through the second half and especially when we went a point down with five minutes left. But then the lads have shown that character all year long," said Madden.
Craughwell are cut from the same spirited cloth, as they showed en route to the final. "I was a bit concerned when we fell five points behind before half-time but we have turned around bigger deficits so it was a question of clicking into our game," said Glennon.
They did it quite well in the third quarter but gritty Sarsfields held their nerve and, with Morrissey consistently accurate from frees - some from very long distances - they deserved a second chance.
So too did Craughwell, whose manager summed up the replay scenario perfectly.
"If it wasn't a 50-50 before today, it is now," said Glennon.
Scorers - Craughwell: N Healy 0-6 (5f), A Callanan 0-3, G O'Halloran 0-2, T Monaghan 0-1. Sarsfields: N Morrissey 0-8 (8f), A Ward, J Cooney, E Cleary, K Wade 0-1 each.
Sarsfields - C Dolan; C Murray, D Skehill, D Murray; N Quinn, R Quinn, E Cleary; K Hynes, I Fox; N Morissey, J Cooney, N Kelly; I Skehill, K Wade, A Ward. Subs: I Kenny for Fox (56), K Cooney for Wade (59).
Craughwell - A Ryan; S Dolan, I Daniels, M Monaghan; M Horan, A Cullinane, John Ryan; N Callanan, G O'Halloran; S Hynes, N Healy, Jamie Ryan;T Monaghan, A Callanan, F Healy.
Sub: K Cullinane for Hynes (48).
Ref - J Keane (Rahoon-Newcastle)