Sars make history for home of hurling
WHO would have thought when the All-Ireland club championships were launched in the early '70s that it would take more than four decades for the Munster title to winter in the GAA's birthplace?
Certainly not Thurles Sarsfields, which explains why there was such a potent mixture of joy and relief squeezed into the small Pairc Ui Chaoimh dressing-room yesterday as the squad sung their songs and danced in delight after creating history by becoming the first group to bring senior provincial glory back to the club.
Inspiring captain Padraic Maher broke away from the celebrations to explain exactly how much it meant to Thurles.
"We've been waiting for this for a very long time. It isn't just a win for the lads in here now but for all who went before us. It's a special day in the club's history," he said.
On a personal level, he said the triumph was "right up there as one of the best moments of my career."
He had played a significant role in creating the well-balanced structure which eventually wore down the Waterford champions, who had beaten Thurles by a point in a low-scoring Munster final two years ago.
Michael Cahill had a great game too – doing an excellent marking job on John Mullane, restricting him to a single point while also preventing him from creating a whole lot – as did Pa Bourke, Lar Corbett and Denis Maher, who as well as scoring two points, was directly involved in creating 1-4 for his colleagues.
It really was a high-class performance by Thurles and it had to be as De La Salle pushed them relentlessly. De La Salle trailed by just two points after 55 minutes before Thurles, perhaps carrying higher energy reserves against 14 men, scored three late points.
As De La Salle reflect on the overall circumstances of a hugely entertaining contest, they will inevitably come back to the dismissal of left corner-forward, John Keane in the 27th minute for a pull on Denis Maher.
Keane would have expected to escape with a warning but Limerick referee Shane Hourigan, who had booked Lar Corbett in the first minute, reached for red. It was a serious setback for De La Salle as it left Thurles with a spare man (mostly David Kennedy) for 33 minutes.
De La Salle improvised well under a considerable handicap but the extra work required to offset the numerical disadvantage probably took a toll in an energy-sapping slog on heavy ground.
"It certainly made things harder for us but we rose above it for a long time," said captain Kevin Moran.
Together with Brian Phelan, Eddie Barrett and Jake Dillon, he was very much in the lead role for De La Salle as they attempted to overcome a serious disadvantage. They started the 14-man phase a point adrift and were two points down (1-11 to 1-9) at half-time before enjoying a good opening spell in the second half.
It was level at 1-13 each after 38 minutes before sub Ger 'Redser' O'Grady fired over a Thurles point, which set him on his way to making a solid contribution to a memorable victory.
Thurles held the edge from there on but De La Salle's dogged defiance kept them in close contention until the last minute when the deficit was extended to five points. De La Salle might have had a penalty in the 55th minute when Jake Dillon was surrounded in the Thurles square but got no joy. It was a borderline call but, unfortunately for De La Salle, it ran against them and with it went their last big chance to save the day.
They had trailed for much of the first half after Thurles made a decisive early break when Jim Corbett hit a goal in the fourth minute, having been played through most intelligently by Denis Maher.
Thurles led by 1-10 to 0-8 after Lar Corbett deftly angled over his third point in the 23rd minute before De La Salle struck back three minutes later with a goal from Paudie Nevin.
It was followed shortly afterwards by Keane's dismissal, leaving them facing a massive challenge as they attempted to win the Munster title for the third time in five seasons.
"It's very disappointing but it just wasn't our day. Hopefully, we'll be back again in the near future," said Moran.
For Thurles, it was the culmination of an excellent season. They had to beat the Limerick, Cork and Waterford champions to win their first Munster title, a triple achievement which underlined their growing maturity as a squad.
"We showed that we can grind out results in tough circumstances but then we've put in a huge amount of work all year. We never took our foot off the pedal and we got our rewards in the end. We knew we'd have to play really well to beat De La Salle and, thankfully, we managed it. It's a very special feeling to be heading back to Thurles as Munster champions," said Padraic Maher.
Sarsfields will meet the Leinster champions in the All-Ireland semi-final next February, a challenge for which they look well equipped. And, according to Maher, they won't waste any time getting down to preparing for the next big adventure.
"Well have to come in for training once or twice over Christmas," he said. But first there's a Munster title win to celebrate after a well-run campaign where they grew in stature with each outing.
Yesterday's attendance was 2,433.
Scorers – Thurles: P Bourke 0-7 (2f); L Corbett 0-3; J Corbett 1-0; M Gleeson, D Maher, G O'Grady 0-2 each; M Cahill, J Enright (1f), E McCormack, M O'Brien, R Ruth 0-1 each. De La Salle: J Dillon 0-9 (5f, 1 l-b); E Barrett 0-3; P Nevin 1-0; D Twomey, J Mullane, E Madigan, K Moran 0-1 each.
Thurles Sarsfields – P McCormack; S Maher, K O'Gorman, David Maher; D Kennedy, P Maher, M Cahill; J Enright, M Gleeson; Denis Maher, J Corbett, L Corbett; M O'Brien, P Bourke, A McCormack. Subs: R Ruth for O'Brien (37), G O'Grady for J Corbett (37), S Cahill for Gleeson (58), R Maher for S Maher (60).
De La Salle – S Brenner; S Daniels, I Flynn, C Watt; B Phelan, K Moran, E Madigan; J Kennedy, E Barrett; P Nevin, J Mullane, J Dillon; D Greene, D Twomey, J Keane. Subs: S McNulty for D Greene (56), J Sage for Barrett (59).
Ref – S Hourigan (Limerick).