Crowley out to turn tables as Sarsfields and De La Salle lock horns in repeat of epic '08 clash
AN EPIC Munster hurling tussle transpired when these sides met at the same stage this time two years ago, so little wonder there's such interest in tomorrow's AIB Munster club SHC semi-final between Sarsfields (Cork) and De La Salle (Waterford).
Sarsfields' young manager John Crowley (37) wasn't in charge in 2008 but has virtually photographic recollection of its memorable climax, when Brian Phelan's two heroic late frees -- one from well inside his own half -- clinched victory for De La Salle at the end of a titanic battle, in which the sides were level 11 times.
Phelan, by the way, yesterday announced his retirement from inter-county hurling with Waterford.
Victory for De La Salle came just a week after the city side had captured their first Waterford senior title, so it was a massive milestone for them, though Crowley stressed that it was a big day too for the Cork club.
"We had just won our own county title for the first time in 57 years; there was massive euphoria in the village (Glanmire) and maybe that curtailed our Munster ambition a tiny bit," he says.
After beating another of Cork's big-name clubs, Glen Rovers, in this year's county final -- their third in a row -- Sarsfields are itching to have another go at De La Salle.
"This time we've had four weeks' break since the county final and we've been focused and kept busy," Crowley explains. This preparation included challenge matches against Wexford champions Oulart-The Ballagh and the Limerick seniors.
There's no hiding Sarsfields' delight at their recent return to the limelight.
The club that produced dual legend Teddy McCarthy had a lean period after beating a Glen Rovers team that included Christy Ring in the 1951 county final. But they've contested the last three county senior finals, winning two.
Crowley claims that his lack of talent as a player explains why he went into management so young; despite his youth, he has lots of managerial experience, especially with Sarsfields' current crop, which includes county captain Kieran Murphy and fellow Cork seniors Cian McCarthy, Michael Cussen, Conor O'Sullivan and Ray Ryan.
Crowley managed the club's U-21s to the county championship in 2004. He's been managing Murphy, Cussen and Rory Duggan ever since he led them to the All-Ireland Feile (U-14) Division 1 final in 1997.
"We lost that final to Tullaroan -- Kieran was our centre-forward and Tommy Walsh was theirs," Crowley recalls. "Feile is just a unique and fantastic thing -- I still meet lads who aren't even playing seriously any more who come up and tell me that Feile weekend was their best sporting experience."
Even more intimidating than a teenage Walsh is a De La Salle team who also come with a new manager in the shape of Michael Ryan, who, after establishing the county as a women's football superpower, went on to become a Waterford senior hurling selector alongside Justin McCarthy.
When All Star John Mullane was switched from full-forward to the wing in 2008, it helped swing the game De La Salle's way, as he racked up 0-5 from play.
"Mullane is just one of the best forwards in the country and will take a lot of minding, but they're particularly strong at half-back too," Crowley says.
Where exactly Sarsfields will site the towering Cussen is anticipated with interest; he scored 0-4 from play the last time the sides met.
"We've used Michael at full-forward and centre-forward and he started at corner-forward in the county final," Crowley says.
"It's horses for courses in a big game like this and we've studied De La Salle closely, but you have to put faith in your own players. We really believe in them and will definitely be having a right crack at reaching the Munster final."