Sarsfields drive on to Tipperary four-timer
Thurles Sars 1-24 Borris-Ileigh 0-11
Battle-hardened met work-in-progress in Semple Stadium and got more than enough right to build a victory without any worries or scares.
Thurles Sarsfields continued their dominance of Tipperary hurling for a fourth successive year, a feat they last achieved in the 1960s with a performance that suggested there's a whole lot more in them.
They will take their challenge into the Munster arena against the Waterford champions on October 29 and while they haven't done as well as expected in the provincial campaigns over the years, there's no reason to believe that the latest bid will follow a similar disappointing pattern.
They saw off the latest challenge to their Tipperary power base with the minimum of fuss, leaving Borris-Ileigh, who were appearing in the county final for the first time since 1988, with no excuses.
"They are a super team with threats all over the field. We needed to be winning as many individual battles as possible and that just didn't happen," said Borris-Ileigh midfielder, Brendan Maher.
The Tipperary star did all he could, initially in a largely defensive role and later as a forward, but with Sarsfields imposing their will across every line, it was a lost cause from a long way out.
"Even when they were well ahead late on, they were still shouting at each other, still organising. That's a sign of a great team," said Maher.
Sarsfields were well-structured early on too when, after trailing by a point in the ninth minute, they whipped up a blue tide which sent a relentless series of waves washing towards the Borris-Ileigh goal.
They scored seven unanswered points in 15 minutes, opening up a lead that was always likely to present their inexperienced rivals with an unsolvable problem.
There was no shortage of effort or resolve from Borris-Ileigh but they lacked the firepower to seriously trouble a steely Sarsfields defence, led by captain Padraic Maher.
He took a heavy knock early on but it had no long-term effect as he went on to be a dominant presence against an attack where only Dan McCormack made any real impression.
Borris-Ileigh, for whom Liam Ryan was also a threat, rallied before half-time, closing the margin to 0-11 to 0-7, but that was as good as it got.
They needed a good start to the second half but instead conceded three points, allowing Sarsfields back into a very comfortable position from which they were not going to be dislodged.
They had a goal disallowed in the 43rd minute before Borris-Ileigh goalkeeper Jack Bourke made a great save.
However, he gifted Sarsfields a goal shortly afterwards when his attempt to prevent a Stephen Cahill shot for a point dropping over the bar knocked the ball into the path of Conor Stakelum, who whipped it to the net.
That took the defending champions' lead out to 11 points heading into the final quarter, where they stretched their advantage by a further five.
Sarsfields coach Paddy McCormack described his side's performance as "probably our best of the year," which is about as satisfying as it can get on county final day.
And the significance of a four-in-a-row success?
"Naturally, we'll smell the flowers and the bloom," he said. "County finals are always hard to win and we'll certainly enjoy this one."
Inevitably, though, attention will turn quickly to Munster championship, a target which Sarsfields must set for themselves if they aren't to run the risk of being dubbed under-achievers once they move out of Tipperary.
With so much quality dotted all over the team, they appear well set for a real tilt at provincial glory but then the same applied over the last three years too.
"We haven't thought about it because when you start out the year, winning Dan Breen (the county trophy) is something we associate with the club," said McCormack.
"All we were thinking about was the 2017 championship. That's the only one we could win today. Now that we've won it, someone reminded me that it was back in the early '60s - the great team of the Doyles and all the rest - that we won the last four in a row, so we are delighted."
There is a nice balance to the Sarsfields team, anchored by the Maher brothers and Michael Cahill in defence, through a solid midfield and into an attack where Billy McCarthy (20) and Conor Stakelum (19) are bringing an added dimension alongside the experience of Denis Maher, Lar Corbett, Pa Bourke and Aidan McCormack.
Borris-Ileigh, who started with four U-21s in attack, lacked that balance but they will learn from the experience.
"If we put it in perspective, we probably didn't expect to get here this year so it does bode well for the future but when you get to the day, you want to make the most of it. You want to get a performance - it's just a shame it didn't happen," said Brendan Maher.
Scorers - Thurles: A McCormack 0-9 (6fs, 1'65'), C Stakelum 1-2, D Maher, B McCarthy 0-3 each, P Bourke, L Corbett 0-2 each, S Cahill, P Maher, R Maher 0-1 each. Borris-Illeigh: B Maher 0-5fs, D McCormack 0-3, L Ryan 0-2, K Maher 0-1.
Thurles Sarsfields - P McCormack; M Cahill, R Maher, S Maher; C Moloney, P Maher, S Lillis; J Maher, S Cahill; D Maher, B McCarthy, A McCormack; C Stakelum, P Bourke, L Corbett.
Subs: M O'Brien for Bourke (35), T Doyle for D Maher (52), R Dwan for S Maher (58), C Langan for Stakelum (59), R Purcell for Moloney (62).
Borris-Ileigh - J Bourke; T Fahy, C Cowan, M Stapleton; P Stapleton, B Maher, S Burke; S McCormack, L Ryan; N Kenny, D McCormack, K Maher; J Hogan, C Kenny, J Kelly. Subs: J Harkin for M Stapleton (16), K Ryan for Hogan (49), V Stapleton for K Maher (55), M Ryan for Fahy (59).
Ref - F Horgan