THE year continues to serve up special treats for Lar Corbett.
Having already secured an All- Ireland medal, plus a Hurler of the Year and an All Star award, he added a county title to his impressive bank of achievements as Thurles Sarsfields retained the Tipperary crown with an authoritative performance in Semple Stadium yesterday.
Corbett didn't have to do anything particularly special on a day when Clonoulty-Rossmore's lack of firepower in attack left them with a problem they could never quite figure out. Still, he did make an important contribution by firing in a goal in the 45th minute, which wrecked whatever fading chance Clonoulty had of retrieving the situation.
It was a classic Corbett effort as he won possession from an accurate delivery from midfielder Michael Gleeson, swivelled into a shooting position and drove the ball past Declan O'Dwyer in the Clonoulty goal. It was the smoothest of finishes and gave Thurles a nine-point lead (1-14 to 1-5), leaving them with the routine task of seeing the game through to a successful conclusion.
Clonoulty battled bravely in search of the goal that might ignite their rescue plans, but couldn't find a way through a well-organised Thurles defence where Padraic Maher, Michael Cahill and Kevin O'Gorman were commanding figures. Goalkeeper Patrick McCormack did well too, especially late on as Clonoulty pressed hard.
Earlier, John O' Neill had seen his goal-bound shot deflected over the bar by O'Gorman, which summed up Clonoulty's day. Apart from the second quarter when they hit 1-4, they found it very difficult to create openings against a Maher-inspired defence.
Maher was dominant at centre-back, making several spectacular catches and getting in long, accurate clearances. He drifted left and right too in search of work and responsibility and had the man-of-the-match award secured long before the finish.
If Corbett's goal left Clonoulty with a near-impossible task, there was even worse to come for them when full-back James Heffernan was sent off for a second yellow-card offence in the 55th minute. It was a sad end to Heffernan's day as he had hurled well in a defence which was under pressure from the start.
John Devane and Padraig Heffernan also worked hard, but with Thurles dominating possession further out, the Clonoulty defence was frequently stretched to breaking point and beyond.
Pa Bourke fired over Thurles' first point from a free in the second minute and by the 13th minute they had six points on the board, while Clonoulty had still to get off the mark.
They broke their duck two minutes later thanks to Tom Butler, who added two more points before the interval in what was Clonoulty's best period. They struck for a goal in the 29th minute when O'Neill drove a 20-metre free to the net and had more chances before the break, but Timmy Hammersley was off target with two frees.
Still, Clonoulty would have been quite pleased with themselves at half-time when they trailed by just two points (0-9 to 1-4).
It wasn't a true reflection of the relative merits of the sides, but it left Thurles facing the possibility that it was going to be one of those days when they did all the hurling only for the opposition to stick doggedly with them.
The early second-half exchanges were always going to be crucial and, as in the first half, it was Thurles who took control. Denis Maher scored two points in the opening two minutes and although Hammersley replied from a free, it was becoming increasingly clear that Clonoulty wouldn't be able to maintain their second-quarter momentum.
Denis Maher finished with four points from play from a most productive performance, while it was also a good day for minor star Aidan McCormack. The Thurles youngster, who recently scored 0-19 in a minor championship game, came on as a sub in the 37th minute and marked his arrival with two smartly-taken points in the space of three minutes.
The odds on a Clonoulty revival were lengthening all the time and when Corbett fired to the net there was never any doubt that the Dan Breen Cup was staying in Thurles. Clonoulty scored just three points in the entire second half, a truly miserable return which was never going to be enough to trouble a very solid Thurles side.
Clonoulty failed to score from the 48th minute; Thurles added two points, while looking as if they could find another gear if the occasion demanded.
They made little impression on last year's Munster championship, but with another year's experience behind them they are likely to be more formidable this time, although they face a tough semi-final against Limerick champions Kilmallock, who beat Crusheen (Clare) yesterday.
It was all very disappointing for Clonoulty, who were chasing their first title since 1997. They were beaten in too many positions to have a decent chance of dislodging the favourites, who brought an impressive order and control to their game.
Padraic Maher provided the launch pad for a superiority in front of 6,224 fans, and his colleagues responded enthusiastically to put together a good performance in the first and third quarters especially, during which they scored 1-11.
Scorers: --Thurles: P Bourke 0-4f, Denis Maher 0-4, L Corbett 1-0, J Enright (0-2f), R Ruth, S Lillis (0-1s), A McCormack 0-2 each. Clonoulty: J O'Neill 1-1 (1-0 f), Tom Butler, T Hammersley (2f) 0-3 each.
Thurles sarsfields -- P McCormack; M Cahill, K O'Gorman, David Maher; B O'Dwyer, P Maher, D Kennedy; A Kennedy, M Gleeson; L Corbett, Denis Maher, S Lillis; R Ruth, P Bourke, J Enright. Subs: A McCormack for Enright (37), J Corbett for Kennedy (52), JJ Bourke for Ruth (60), M O'Brien for Denis Maher (61), P Leahy for O'Dwyer (61).
Clonoulty Rossmore -- D O'Dwyer; Joey O'Keeffe, J Heffernan, K Horan; P Heffernan, J Devane, L Devane; John O'Keeffe, S O'Connor; Tom Butler, M Heffernan, T Hammersley; F O'Keeffe, J O'Neill, Thomas Butler. Subs: A Kearney for L Devane (23), P White for O'Connor (28), C Ryan for M Heffernan (37), O'Connor for F O'Keeffe (50),
Ref-- K Delahunty.