McGrath’s class makes all the difference for Loughmore
Former All Star inspires his club to victory as Nenagh are pipped by a point in thrilling Tipperary final
Loughmore Castleiney’s Derek Bourke tackles Michael Heffernan of Nenagh in the Tiperary senior final at Semple Stadium. Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Loughmore-Castleiney 1-17 Nenagh Éire Óg 1-16
Driven back into contention by a sparkling second-half display from former All Star Noel McGrath, Loughmore- Castleiney kicked on to shade yesterday’s Tipperary hurling final at Semple Stadium. There was emotion and jubilation at the club’s third championship and corresponding despair for Nenagh, who had looked livelier and sharper in the initial stages and three times opened up a six-point lead.
Having relaxed their grip, however – or in fairness to an exceptional effort by the winners’ half backs, John Meagher in particular, had it prised open – they struggled to reassert themselves and their shooting lost its previous composure.
After the initial exchanges with extra defenders and stripped-down full forward lines the match settled in the second half into a more conventional contest but Loughmore landed the most telling blows in the third quarter.
Once Nenagh lost the lead, they never got it back although in the fraught closing minutes a replay looked on the cards.
Points from Pearse Morris, a Michael Heffernan free and Ritchie Flannery sent Nenagh into an early lead and with Loughmore struggling under the high ball, Barry Heffernan dropped a ball into the square and Paddy Murphy crashed in a goal for a 1-3 to 0-2 lead on 12 minutes.
Nenagh took command while Loughmore struggled and ran up 11 first-half wides. The six-point lead was reinstated three times but in the final 10 minutes before half-time the match began to turn.
Noel McGrath, busy without much to show for it in the early stages, smartly recycled ball for his cousin Liam to point and another cousin, Aidan, hit a long-range free to conclude the scoring before the break.
Nenagh brought out Murphy to the 40, presumably to counter Meagher’s influence and the scoring went tit-for-tat for few minutes but Noel McGrath began hitting scores, one boomed from his own half, and the margin began to fluctuate within a score rather than two.
The score that broke the match open came after Meagher launched a ball into Liam McGrath whose finish put Loughmore ahead 1-13 to 1-12 and Nenagh began to struggle.
Scores flashed over at either end – the pick of them a carefully constructed sequence of short passes until Noel McGrath got on the ball and swept over the point which made in 1-15 to 1-13. Flannery and Mikey Heffernan restored parity but Ciarán McGrath and Evan Sweeney reopened the two-point gap.
Still Nenagh didn’t give up and although Heffernan had missed three chances at the very end, he pointed an injury-time free to leave the minimum between the sides. The assault on Loughmore’s goal continued but the last chance was contained when Murphy was hemmed in with Tommy Heffernan unmarked on the other side of the goal.
Winning manager Declan Laffan, 14 of whose team are involved in next week’s county football semi-final, paid tribute to one of his players Eddie Connolly, who is recovering from a recent operation to remove a brain tumour.
“We had a special get-well, recovery Mass last Wednesday week and had a training session afterwards and you could just sense everyone pulling together. It really did galvanise the team as a unit . . . At half-time we definitely sensed we could win it in the dressing room.
“We didn’t play it around like we can. In the second half we did and even the goal. John Meagher gave in the ball – and what a ball! – and put it on a plate. Liam did the rest; that’s the calibre of players we have.”
His Nenagh counterpart Liam Heffernan said: “When we were five or six points up after a quarter of an hour we should have drove on but we took our foot off the pedal . .
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.”
LOUGHMORE-CASTLEINEY: S Nolan; T Long, D Bourke, J Hennessy; A McGrath (0-2, frees), J Meagher, T King; C McGrath (capt; 0-1), T McGrath (0-1); J McGrath, D Kennedy (0-1), N McGrath (0-7, one free and one 65); L McGrath (1-2, one point free), E Sweeney (0-1), C Hennessy (0-2). Subs: M Webster for Kennedy (57 mins).
NENAGH: M McNamara; M Flannery, N Maloney (capt.), J Brennan; D Quinn, H Maloney, Billy Heffernan; Barry Heffernan, K Tucker; P Morris (0-3), M Heffernan (0-7, one penalty and two frees), T Heffernan (0-2); A Coffey (0-1), P Murphy (1-2), R Flannery (0-1). Subs: P Ryan for Coffey (46 mins), D Quinn for Billy Heffernan (53 mins), J Slattery for Ryan (60 mins).
Referee: J McCormack (Knockavilla Kickhams). Attendance: 7,195