A famous day for Offaly hurling and the people of Kilcormac-Killoughey. Available at 5/1 to win this semi-final, they gave a performance that had defiance at its core, as if they came to Portlaoise a shade insulted to lodge the strongest objection to those bleak forecasts.
But odds and Offaly, well they are an odd mix at times. This was an unforgettable triumph for a club that won its first county title only last autumn, even if they have been threatening for some time. Ten years ago, Birr won the last of their four All-Irelands and the time since has seen a democratisation of hurling in the county. Coolderry exceeded expectations to reach the All-Ireland final last year; now Kilcormac-Killoughey will experience that rare privilege, too, next month.
Their win was every bit as emphatic as the scoreline reads. Thurles brought a reputation for destroying teams with opulent spells of high-street hurling, but yesterday the rules of engagement were set to different co-ordinates. It wasn't a day for parlour hurlers, it was indisputably a battle and Kilcormac showed the greater appetite.
Some of the bigger Thurles names didn't shine. Lar Corbett was held scoreless and he didn't have a notable input. The same could be said of Paudie Maher at centre-back and with Michael Cahill and David Kennedy in the same line, Kilcormac were still able to root out five points from play. All of their forwards registered and Ciarán Slevin, not for the first time, was their chief source.
Throughout the field, Sarsfields were badgered by the relentless attentions of the Kilcormac players, with turnover ball leading to a number of their scores. Pa Bourke played at full-forward and scored a fine goal nearing half-time, but his performance was mixed and often subdued. Richie Ruth and Aidan McCormack only got to show flashes of what they can do. Ronan Maher came on in the second half and helped raise the tempo and for a while Sarsfields appeared capable of making their escape.
In the 51st minute, Bourke's free left them only one point adrift, 1-13 to 1-14, having trailed by five at one stage, but Kilcormac scored six more to Sarsfields solitary reply from Michael O'Brien.
The weather held but there had been a lot of rain leading up to it, which left its mark, both goal areas covered in sand. Sarsfields won't go looking for excuses there; the answers lie within.
Dan Currams' goal near half-time offered a neat demonstration of Kilcormac's irrepressible willpower, when he managed to dribble the ball past Patrick McCormack after he seemed to have forfeited possession. It wasn't a thing of beauty but the game was never at risk of being mistaken for a beauty contest.
Before that Sarsfields had a good spell, though short-lived, with Bourke's goal and a glorious point over the shoulder from McCormack. A goal down, Kilcormac relished the challenge. A long-range free from Brian Leonard underlined their intent. Then Currams struck, bullying his way through, to give his side a 1-8 to 1-7 lead and everything to fight for facing into the second half.
From there the intensity of the match never waned. Kilcormac restarted with an inspirational score from Conor Mahon and a Slevin free left them a goal clear. Two more quickly followed, the first a free after Denis Maher was bottled up and blown for over-carrying. Currams struck one with his back to goal under pressure and the gap was five. With 20 minutes to go, Bourke tried to goal from a free but the Kilcormac line could not be breached.
They did begin to make inroads and in an eight-minute spell five of the six points scored came from the Munster champions. They were also unlucky not to get a second goal, Corbett's beautifully flighted ball met with a sweet one-handed connection from Ruth, but it was stopped by Conor Slevin. The save had more to do with luck probably, but on this day, of all days, Kilcormac had earned it and more.
Scorers – Kilcormac: C Slevin 0-11 (0-8f, 1 '65'), D Currams 1-1, C Mahon, B Leonard 0-2f, T Geraghty, J Gorman, P Geraghty, K Leonard 0-1 each. Sarsfields: P Bourke 1-5 (3f, 1 '65'), J Enright (2 '65s'), D Maher 0-2 each, M Gleeson, A McCormack, R Ruth, R Maher, M O'Brien 0-1.
Kilcormac-Killoughey: C Slevin; J Grogan, G Healion, A McConville; K Grogan, P Healion, B Leonard; D Kilmartin, K Leonard; C Slevin, C Mahon, P Geraghty; J Gorman, D Currams, T Geraghty. Subs: C Guinan for B Leonard (59).
Thurles Sarsfields: P McCormack; D Maher, K O'Gorman, S Maher; D Kennedy, P Maher, M Cahill; M Gleeson, J Enright; D Maher, J Corbett, L Corbett; A McCormack, P Bourke, R Ruth. Subs: R Maher for Enright (38), G O'Grady for J Corbett (43), M O'Brien for Ruth (51).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork)