Wednesday 13 December 2017

Pa Bourke holds his nerve to secure last-gasp victory for Thurles Sarsfields

Thurles Sarsfields 0-17 Ballygunner 0-16

Thurles Sarsfields' captain Padraic Maher celebrates as the final whistle is blown
Thurles Sarsfields' captain Padraic Maher celebrates as the final whistle is blown

Michael Verney

WHEN the going gets tough, the tough get going and Thurles Sarsfields coach Paddy McCormack had no doubt about the end result when Pa Bourke stepped up to a last-minute ‘65’.

Having earlier fluffed his lines from a penalty, Bourke showed nerves of steel to confidently fire over the black spot and secure a last-four berth for the Tipp kingpins.

It was just desserts for Sarsfields, for whom brothers Padraic and Ronan Maher were outstanding in defence, as they asserted their dominance after the opening quarter.

With Bourke and the industrious Stephen Cahill showing a keen eye for the posts, Sarsfields led 0-9 to 0-7 at the break and held a similar advantage heading into injury-time before a spirited Ballgunner threw the kitchen sink at them.

Barry Coughlan of Ballygunner
Barry Coughlan of Ballygunner

Waterford star Pauric Mahony slotted over his eighth free and a magnificent effort from David O’Sullivan levelled affairs with 62 minutes played, but Bourke had the last laugh to seal a pulsating contest.

Sars have been on the wrong end of some titanic provincial battles in the past decade and McCormack was relieved to come through on the right side of another epic struggle.

“It’s a fantastic result for us, we lost a similar game to Newtownshandrum a couple of years ago and we’re delighted this went our way. And for Pa Bourke to stand up after the penalty didn’t go his way earlier on. . .” McCormack said

Ballygunner showed no ill effects from last week’s county final triumph and were quickly out of the traps, with Mahony and O’Sullivan firing over before a Bourke brace drew Thurles level.

As the game settled, Sarsfields held the upper hand, with Ronan Maher restricting Mahony’s influence from play, and hitting two superb points himself. And while the Waterford champions got some joy inside early on, their attacking threat dried up.

With Premier star Padraic Maher as sweeper one end, and Déise defender Philip Mahony sitting in the pocket at the other, goals were always going to be at a premium but Thurles made hay from out the field.

Cahill fired over three first-half points from distance, while Ballygunner were over-reliant on frees from Mahony’s stick as they trailed by two at the break.

Bourke had a glorious opportunity to send them five ahead upon the resumption but missed his penalty pick-up before tamely firing a ground shot at Stephen O’Keeffe. 

Aidan McCormack of Thurles Sarsfields in action against Harley Barnes, 8, Eddie Hayden, Billy O'Keefe, left, and Wayne Hutchison, right
Aidan McCormack of Thurles Sarsfields in action against Harley Barnes, 8, Eddie Hayden, Billy O'Keefe, left, and Wayne Hutchison, right

It didn’t deter the home side, however, and in front of 2,527 they surged into a four-point lead by the 50th minute with excellent scores from Denis Maher, Aidan McCormack and Bourke, 0-15 to 0-11.

Just when it looked like the game could fizzle out, Ballygunner sprung to life again through Pauric Mahony and Peter Hogan to leave the minimum between the sides.

O’Keeffe was ruthlessly punished by Bourke when overelaborating with his short deliveries, a feature of the game, before Mahony was off target with a scoreable free.

It looked like their goose was cooked again but Mahony made amends before a monster O’Sullivan effort left extra-time on the horizon. But it was left to the nerveless Bourke to send over the winner.

For man of the match Padraic Maher (pictured) , it was yet another masterclass after a stellar season in blue and gold, but all eyes are already set on maiden Clare champions Ballyea and adding a second Munster title.

“We’ve plenty to work on next weekend, we know that. We were down in Ennis two years ago against Cratloe and we didn’t do ourselves justice. We’ll get ourselves right and go from there,” he said.

While not making excuses Ballygunner boss Denis Walsh questioned some of referee Johnny Murphy’s decisions before outlining how Sarsfields “will take some beating”.

“I think the referee didn’t have his best day, being straight about it. That’s all I could say really and I wouldn’t over-elaborate,” he said.

SCORERS – Thurles – P Bourke 0-7 (3fs, 1 ‘65’), S Cahill 0-4, R Maher 0-2, A McCormack, D Maher, L Corbett, S Lillis 0-1 each. Ballygunner – P Mahony 0-8fs, D O’Sullivan 0-3, P Hogan 0-2 each, S O’Sullivan, B O’Sullivan, H Barnes 0-1 each

THURLES – P McCormack; S Maher, M Cahill, R Dwan; D Maher, P Maher, R Maher; S Lillis, B McCarthy; S Cahill, A McCormack, P Bourke, C Lanigan, R Ruth, L Corbett. Subs: J Maher for Dwan (16), T Doyle for Ruth inj (30 +1), D Kennedy for M Cahill inj (48), M O’Brien for Lanigan (51), C Moloney for Corbett (58).

BALLYGUNNER – S O’Keeffe; E Hayden, B Coughlan, I Kenny; W Hutchinson, Philip Mahony, S Walsh; H Barnes, S O’Sullivan; D O’Sullivan, P Hogan, P Mahony; C Power, B O’Sullivan, T O’Sullivan. Subs: S Power for C Power and B O’Keeffe for T O’Sullivan (both 50).

REF – J Murphy (Limerick)

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