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Noel McGrath inspires Loughmore rally

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Liam McGrath, minus his hurley, tries to get past John Brennan

Liam McGrath, minus his hurley, tries to get past John Brennan

SPORTSFILE

Liam McGrath, minus his hurley, tries to get past John Brennan

NOEL McGrath lit up Semple Stadium with a sensational second-half display that saw Loughmore-Castleiney crowned county champions for a third time.

On an afternoon laced with emotion for Loughmore-Castleiney, McGrath shot six of his seven points in the second half as the 1988 and 2007 winners lifted the Dan Breen Cup again.

Loughmore went into battle yesterday without Eddie Connolly after the 2012 All-Ireland intermediate-winning captain underwent surgery to remove a brain tumour nine days ago.

John Meagher, who has endured a tough time himself due to injury and illness, slotted into the centre-back position and hurled up a storm as Loughmore hit back from being six points down on three occasions in the first half to claim a famous victory.

Things looked bleak for a phenomenal dual club as Nenagh Eire Og stormed into a 1-5 to 0-2 lead with less than 14 minutes on the watch.

All six of Nenagh's starting forwards had registered scores by then but Loughmore fought back valiantly to within four points by half-time, trailing by 1-7 to 0-6.

The big fear for the newly-crowned champions was that first-half profligacy would cost them, as 11 wides were racked up before half-time.

However, Loughmore were far more economical with their shooting in the second half as McGrath and Meagher grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck for their team in their respective lines.

As 7,195 spectators looked on, Meagher provided the delivery for Liam McGrath, Tipperary's 2011 All-Ireland minor-winning captain, to slam home a wonderful goal midway through the second half.

Loughmore, breeze-assisted after half-time, now led for the first time in the game, 1-13 to 1-12, but Nenagh got back level at 1-15 apiece with four minutes remaining on the watch.

Captain Ciaran McGrath and Evan Sweeney slotted over late scores to establish a two-point lead, but Nenagh, who themselves had seven second-half wides, cut the gap back to just a point in stoppage-time.

Nenagh laid siege to the Loughmore goal in a frantic finish but time ran out for the 1995 champions as Loughmore set up a Munster quarter-final showdown with Limerick's Na Piarsaigh on October 27.

Nenagh will look back with some regret on this defeat as they were rampant early on, while Heffernan sent an early second-half penalty rocketing over the crossbar.

Paddy Murphy's 12th-minute goal was a major fillip for the town outfit but Loughmore hung in there and gained the ultimate reward.

And manager Declan Laffan admitted that Connolly's unfortunate health issues had brought the Loughmore squad even closer.

He revealed: "We had a special get well recovery Mass, last Wednesday week before our football game.

"We went training after and you could just sense that everybody pulled together and rowed in together. It really did galvanise the team.

"Even at half-time there today, we had played poorly and hit 11 wides in the first half – very poor shot selection more so than anything but you could just sense that we were never out of this game.

"At half-time, we definitely felt that we could win it in the dressing-room."

Remarkably, Loughmore-Castleiney will now turn their attentions to the big-ball code and a county semi-final meeting with holders Clonmel Commercials next Sunday.

HARD-FOUGHT

Less than a week after Connolly took ill, Loughmore beat Arravale Rovers in a hard-fought quarter-final and long-serving David Kennedy, an All-Ireland SHC medallist with Tipperary in 2001, said afterwards that the nature of that victory set Loughmore up perfectly for the county hurling final.

Laffan smiled: "Please God, we can keep going and who knows, we'll give the football a good rattle as well."

Nenagh boss Liam Heffernan paid a generous tribute to Loughmore – and inter-county shooting star McGrath.

He said: "Loughmore are a good team; they are resilient, they kept fighting and at the end of the day, Noel McGrath was the difference.

"He is a quality player and was able to get scores a little easier than we did at the other end of the field," he added.

Scorers – Loughmore-Castleiney: N McGrath 0-7 (1f, 1 '65'), L McGrath 1-2, A McGrath (2fs), C Hennessy 0-2 each, C McGrath, T McGrath, D Kennedy, E Sweeney 0-1 each. Nenagh Eire Og: M Heffernan 0-7 (3fs, 0-1 pen), P Murphy 1-2, P Morris 0-3, T Heffernan 0-2, A Coffey, R Flannery 0-1 each.

LOUGHMORE-CASTLEINEY – S Nolan; T Long, D Bourke, J Hennessy; A McGrath, J Meagher, T King; C McGrath, T McGrath; J McGrath, D Kennedy, N McGrath; L McGrath, E Sweeney, C Hennessy. Sub: M Webster for Kennedy (56).

NENAGH EIRE OG – M McNamara; M Flannery, N Maloney, J Brennan; D Quinn, H Maloney, Billy Heffernan; Barry Heffernan, K Tucker; P Morris, M Heffernan, T Heffernan; A Coffey, P Murphy, R Flannery. Subs: P Ryan for Coffey (46), D Quinn for Billy Heffernan (52), J Slattery for P Ryan (60).

Ref – J McCormack (Knockavilla Kickhams)

Irish Independent