Culbert ends Templemore dream
The All-Ireland champions strode into Nenagh yesterday and in a matter of minutes had scattered all the ambitions of Our Lady's, Templemore claiming a Dr Harty Cup some 22 years after winning their last.
So the optimism can grow within this St Flannan's side as they pave an ominous route towards a third successive All-Ireland title. Such was the stream of support coming in from Ennis that many were forced into a late arrival at MacDonagh Park. Yet well before the end, those same supporters were satisfied enough to make an early exit.
There was plenty to be impressed with. The full-forward line was abuzz all afternoon, with the middleman Brian Culbert scoring two goals inside the first 10 minutes. They may have come from costly errors in the Templemore defence, but to Culbert's side, Andrew Quinn was never too far from a score, and to the other side, Brendan Gantley was equally impressive in picking up their third goal.
The half-back line also did more or less everything required of them. John Culkin, part of the successful Galway minor team of last year, was the solid rock in the centre while behind him at full back, captain Ronan O'Looney stood out like a monument.
The one fault will undoubtedly surround the period when they briefly let Templemore back into the game. Having built up a six-point lead after 10 minutes, St Flannan's then conceded three unanswered points, most impressively through the agile wing forward John Sweeney.
When Peter Bourke then whipped in Templemore's first goal on 25 minutes, the sides were level 2-4 to 1-7. After that, however, the game stretched out in one direction only.
Before half-time St Flannan's fired back with three points from Quinn and another from Culbert, and their third goal, coming from a wonderful combination of passes between Danien Kennedy and Culbert ahead of Gantley's finish, pushed them back to a seven-point advantage just on the call for the interval.
The much-needed response for Templemore was, unfortunately for them, about as brief as they come. A long ball was dropped in from midfield by Kevin Ivers and swept into the net by Eoin Shortt, even if he was perilously close to the square. But that was all the hope that St Flannan's would allow.
Quinn hit two more sweet frees and the defence started to close down affairs for good. Conor D'Arcy made a few threats but in truth there was no getting through O'Looney and company. That was underlined further when Eoin Shortt, felled in front of the net, set up Kevin Ivors' penalty midway through the half. There was nothing wrong with the pace of his shot, but O'Looney made sure it didn't get over the line.
The Tipperary heads still never dropped. Aidan Ivors was always inspiring at centre back although Sweeney seemed to lose a bit of the steam that made him their outstanding player in the first half. Substitute Kevin Fogarty also made his presence felt but he just couldn't convert that into scores.
As the clock ticked out, the Templemore strategy became that bit more reckless. Pat Shortt and Kevins Ivors were sending in plenty of long balls from midfield, but the forwards rarely had the ability to control them.
They finally ended the scoring famine with Pat Shortt's clinical 65 with some five minutes left. But that was over 20 minutes without a Templemore score, meaning that St Flannan's can perhaps be excused for the rather lethargic finish of their own.
Fittingly, Culkin had the last word in ensuring the final ninepoint margin. They must now get past the Ulster College's selection if they want another day in Croke Park. And with all certainty, the biggest test of the year will await them there.
ST FLANNAN'S, ENNIS: D Quinn; K McNamara, R O'Looney (capt), A O'Loughlin; R Conlon, J Culkin (0-3, all frees), A Fleming; F Lynch, G O'Grady; D Kennedy (0-2), J Clohessy, N Moran; B Gantley (1-0), B Culbert (2-3), A Quinn (0-6, five frees). Subs: D McMahon for Moran (47 mins).
OUR LADY'S, TEMPLEMORE: E Sweeney; D Bergin, D Bolger, M J Murray; D Bourke (0-1), A Ivors (capt), M Costigan; K Ivors, P Shortt (0-2, a free, a 65); P Bourke (1-0), P Brennan, J Sweeney (0-5, three frees); E Shortt (1-0), C D'Arcy, E Kelly. Subs: K Fogarty for Bourke (34 mins), D Owens for Kelly (48 mins).
Referee: John Sexton (Limerick).