Sarsfields withstand Nenagh fightback to claim honours
Thurles Sarsfields 1-18 Nenagh Eire Og 3-11
Success breeds success, and Thurles Sarsfields used all their experience to condemn Nenagh Eire Og to further final heartbreak.
With 5,606 spectators present at Semple Stadium, Thurles powered into a nine-point lead after 20 minutes, but the switch of Michael Heffernan to full-forward turned the game on its head, with just two in it at half-time.
Sarsfields were doing just enough after the break, and with Denis Maher gaining dominance in attack, they led by three with seven to play.
Liam Heffernan's Nenagh side refused to wilt, however, and Andrew Coffey's goal ensured a grandstand finish. But Sarsfields' guile and class was evident for all to see.
Man-of-the-match Stephen Cahill and Lar Corbett hit crucial points, and a delighted Padraic Maher lifted the side's fifth Dan Breen Cup in seven years, their 34th in total.
On those frantic final moments, Maher said: "Barry Heffernan had that ball at the end and Larry was getting there and getting there and thankfully got the block in. Thank God he's six foot three or four, or whatever he is.
"It shows the work-rate that lads were putting in. It was a small thing that turned it for us. We're absolutely thrilled. Any time you win a county final, it's great."
Pearse Morris opened the scoring after only 18 seconds, a sign of things to come in a frantic first half.
Scores were traded early on, but when Conor Lanigan latched on to a dangerous delivery from Corbett and guided the ball to the net in the seventh minute, Sars upped the gears.
Heffernan responded with a free, 1-3 to 0-3, but it was all Sarsfields thereafter. Corbett, Lanigan, Billy McCarthy, Aidan McCormack (2), Pa Bourke (free) and Denis Maher left the game almost out of reach at 1-10 to 0-4.
Eire Og hadn't read the script, however, and after a fruitful eight-minute spell they were back to within a point.
Tommy Heffernan pointed and his older brother, Michael, who tormented two-time All-Star Michael Cahill, helped win a penalty when feeding Morris, who was taken down.
Wing-back Barry Heffernan drilled it to the net, and then Michael Heffernan hit a superb goal when turning Cahill inside-out and firing a rasper to the bottom corner.
Michael Heffernan fired over another point before a Bourke free ended a nine-minute barren spell just before the break, 1-11 to 2-6.
Lanigan opened the second-half scoring on 38 minutes before Morris ended an Eire Og drought of almost 20 minutes with a point.
With Stephen Maher curbing the threat of Heffernan in the second half, Nenagh lacked penetration in attack, but points by substitute James Mackey and Coffey left the sides level with 15 to play.
Sarsfields smelled danger and upped the ante once more, and after McCarthy's goal attempt was excellently smothered by Michael McNamara, Bourke pointed the resultant '65.
Denis Maher then added two crucial points and Thurles looked to be well on their way.
Then disaster struck. The Sarsfields full-back line went AWOL and Mackey pulled a ball into the unmarked Coffey, who had the easiest of finishes, 1-16 to 3-10.
But just when it looked to be slipping away, Stephen Cahill and Corbett, following a great interception from a short puckout, steadied the ship with scores, and despite Quinn leaving the minimum between the sides, Sarsfields held on.
A crestfallen Eire Og manager Liam Heffernan, who stepped down after three years in charge, said: "I thought they were panicking the last four or five minutes, but Lar and a few others steadied them.
"We just couldn't get ahead and that could have made the difference. The day will come for this group of lads but the day won't come for me."
SCORERS - Thurles: C Lanigan (1-2), P Bourke (3f, 1 '65) and D Maher (0-4 each), A McCormack (0-3), L Corbett (0-2), J Maher, S Cahill and B McCarthy (0-1 each). Nenagh: M Heffernan (1-4, 2f), A Coffey (1-1), B Heffernan (1-0 pen), J Mackey and P Morris (0-2 each) D Quinn and T Heffernan (0-1 each).
THURLES S'FIELDS - P McCormack; M Cahill, S Maher, K O'Gorman; D Kennedy, P Maher, R Maher; S Cahill, B McCarthy; J Maher, P Bourke, A McCormack; C Lanigan, L Corbett, D Maher. Subs: R Ruth for Lanigan (45), D Maher for O'Gorman (47), T Doyle for Ruth (60).
NENAGH - M McNamara; M Flannery, N Maloney, J Brennan; B Heffernan, H Maloney, D Quinn; C Ryan, M Heffernan; A Coffey, P Murphy, T Heffernan; K Gleeson, P Morris, Hennessy. Subs: J Mackey for Hennessy (28), B Heffernan for Gleeson (37), P Hickey for Morris (57).
REF - F Horgan.