Corbett's killer instinct proves the difference
TIPPERARY hurlers are still leading a charmed life even as the days darken to the season's chilly close.
Hosts Kilmallock outfought and outplayed the Tipperary champions for the best part of an hour in front of a packed house yesterday, yet two small slip-ups cost them dearly as Thurles Sarsfields thieved two second-half goals to reach the Munster club final for the first time in their history.
The Limerick champions learned what many more have found to their heartbreak -- that Lar Corbett, like all the best assassins, needs just a single bullet.
Kilmallock full-back Philip O'Loughlin had a super game on the reigning Hurler of the Year, keeping him largely out of the game and scoreless until six minutes after half-time.
But then Corbett broke a long delivery from Denis Maher and scrambled it over the line for anything but a vintage 'Lar goal' and suddenly the game turned on its axis.
One of Pa Bourke's two '65s' immediately followed to extend Sars' lead to two in a four-point turnaround that put Kilmallock on the ropes for the first time in the game.
You could argue that it was the home side's own profligacy -- a whopping 13 wides, eight in the second half -- that proved even more costly.
They had four of them in a row then in a period where they also spurned a great goal chance when the Tipperary backs fumbled a ball on their own goal-line.
Yet there was no escaping the feeling that Corbett's goal had thrown Thurles a lifeline they wouldn't waste.
They didn't score again for 13 minutes when Padraic Maher emerged from a huddle to land an inspirational long-range point and within a minute the game was clinched when Bourke found Denis Maher, whose shot was initially stopped by Barry Hennessy only for substitute Michael O'Brien to slam home the rebound.
The goals decided it: the harshest of lessons for the home side who made a brilliant stab at ousting the hot favourites, who featured four of Tipperary's All-Ireland winning seniors and two county minors -- schools star O'Brien and Aidan McCormack -- whose contributions off the bench proved vital.
As you'd expect from any side managed by Tony Considine -- who was strongly critical of referee Michael Wadding afterwards -- Kilmallock were full of fight and worked tirelessly for one another.
Their early offloading game really worked and Eoin Ryan and Paudie O'Brien had the upper hand at midfield but it was a game largely dominated by both sets of defenders.
Kilmallock's centre-back and captain Gavin O'Mahony was outstanding and well supported by wing-back Liam Walsh but in the last quarter his opposite number, Tipp star Padraic Maher, emerged as Sarsfields' powerful leader.
Thurles only got five points from play and two of those were from teenage subs McCormack and O'Brien.
But Kilmallock's experienced forwards like Graeme Mulcahy and Andrew O'Shaughnessy were also well held.
Paudie O'Dwyer and Jake Mulcahy kept driving them on but their shooting as a team was far too rushed and in the final minutes they were reduced to 14 when substitute Kieran Kenneally got a straight red card.
"We were struggling big-time up until the first goal but we worked hard to get it," admitted Thurles manager and new Tipp selector Michael Gleeson. "We're in our first Munster final now which is great but the job's not done yet."
Scorers -- Thurles Sarsfields: M O'Brien 1-1, P Bourke 0-4 (2 '65s, 1f), L Corbett 1-0, J Enright 0-2 (2f), P Maher, D Maher and A McCormack 0-1 each. Kilmallock: A O'Shaughnessy 0-5 (5f), G Mulcahy 0-2, E Ryan 0-2 (1f), P O'Dwyer and S O'Donnell 0-1 each.
Thurles Sarsfields -- P McCormack (capt); D Maher, K O'Gorman, B O'Dwyer; D Kennedy, P Maher, M Cahill; A Kennedy, M Gleeson; S Lillis, L Corbett, D Maher; J Enright, P Bourke, R Ruth. Subs: A McCormack for O'Dywer (h-t), M O'Brien for Kennedy (46), JJ Bourke for Enright (54).
Kilmallock -- B Hennessy; L Hurley, P O'Loughlin, K O'Mahony; L Walsh, G O'Mahony (capt), B O'Sullivan; E Ryan, P O'Brien; P O'Dwyer, S O'Donnell, G O'Sullivan; G Mulcahy, A O'Shaughnessy, J Mulcahy. Subs: K O'Donnell for G O'Sullivan (49), K Kenneally for O'Shaughnessy (58).
Ref -- M Wadding (Waterford).