MULLINAHONE 2-10; THURLES SARSFIELDS 1-11 Tipperary SHC Final replay John Harrington THIS was deliverance day for John Leahy. In a colourful hurling career of many highs and lows, yesterday's Tipperary SHC final replay victory for his Mullinahone team was the ultimate.
Leahy's been the inspiration behind the club's 10-year transformation from a hurling backwater to the best in the county. How fitting that he should lead them to their first ever SH title as player-manager in front of a 12,805 crowd at Semple Stadium.
Mullinahone's fairytale ending came via many twists and turns, and at one point it didn't look like coming at all. Seven points down after 22 minutes, it was easy to believe that they'd left history behind in the drawn match the previous Sunday.
The many personnel and positional changes Sarsfields had implemented since that day were paying dividends. Pat Lawlor and and Mattie O'Dowd had played impressive sub cameos seven days before and were rewarded with starting berths.
Sars' were playing their half-forwards deep to leave plenty of room in front of the pacey inside forwards. This left the Mullinahone full-back line exposed. Often their only option was to foul, and Johnny Enright was in punishing form from placed balls.
Three pointed frees from him and one neatly-taken score from play helped Sarsfields into a four-point lead after just 12 minutes.
Mullinahone looked in even more trouble when Sarsfields most dangerous forward, Ger 'Redser' O'Grady, hit two cracking long-range points. At the other end of the field Eoin Kelly was being unusually wasteful, hitting five wides in the first 20 minutes. When he finally did get off the mark, Mullinahone were 0-7 to 0-2 in arrears.
Points from Pat Lawlor and Johnny Enright stretched Sarsfields' lead again, but then Eoin Kelly finally did what he does so often make the difference.
A high ball into the Sarsfields goalmouth was broken down and squirted free from a forest of legs and hurls. Kelly was onto it like a flash, turned and lanced the sliotar to the bottom left hand corner of the net. It was the galvanising score Mullinahone needed, and visibly deflated the Thurles players. With Brian O'Meara now sweeping behind his half-back line to good effect, the South Tipp team dominated the remainder of the half and an Eoin Kelly '65' saw them go in at the break three points down. Within a minute of the restart, the sides were level. A trademark Brian O'Meara surging solo-run was cut short by foul means 21 yards from goal, and Eoin Kelly stepped up to strike the resultant free.
Six Sarsfields players lined the goal. It's debatable whether they'd have stopped Kelly's subsequent rasper if all 15 had filed into the goalmouth. Sarsfields never really recovered from this blow.
The match was quickly turning into the Eoin Kelly show, and two more points from the young genius put Mullinahone firmly in control. John Leahy was also becoming more and more of an influence, a fact emphasised by a cracking point from 70 yards.
Another Eoin Kelly free and a smartly taken score by nippy wing-forward Pat Croke left Mullinahone five points to the good. Thurles were struggling to stem the Mullinahone tide, but when Ger O'Grady goaled a dubious penalty with 15 minutes remaining, the fat was back in the fire and crackling nicely.
Mullinahone refused to panic though, and Kelly settled nerves with two pointed frees the second and awesome effort from 100 yards. Thurles threw themselves forward, but wave after wave of attack broke against Mullinahone's resolute half-back line where centre-back Edward O'Brien was particularly strong.
A Mattie Dowd point with nine minutes remaining and a Johnny Enright pointed free seven minutes later left just two points between the teams, but Sarsfields never really looked like getting the goal they needed.
SCORERS Mullinahone: E Kelly 2-7 (1-5f, 1 '65'), P Croke 0-2 (1f), J Leahy 0-1. Thurles Sarsfields: J Enright 0-7 (5f), G O'Grady 1-2, P Lawlor, M O'Dowd 0-1 each.
MULLINAHONE V Doheny; D Hackett, P Curran, T Dalton; K Vaughan, E O'Brien, P O'Shea; E Carey, N Curran; P Croke, B O'Meara, C Arrigan; E Kelly, J Leahy, N Leahy. Subs: J Maher for N Leahy (52), P Kelly for C Arrigan (60), E O'Meara for E Carey (62).
THURLES SARSFIELDS C Carroll; S O'Shea, T Maher, G Mernagh; J Lillis, B Carroll, J Lawlor; C McIntyre, E Enright; M O'Dowd, L Corbett, G O'Grady; T Ruth, P Lawlor, J Enright. Subs: E Walshe for T Ruth (51), E Costello for P Lawlor (52), S Mason for C McIntyre (56).
REF J O'Donnell.