Newcastle West see plan finally come to fruition after 35 years

“I was born in ‘95. I haven’t even watched a video of it – I’ve heard enough of it in the local, though.”

On Sunday Cian Sheehan looked every inch the All Star nominee he became this autumn after an impressive summer at wing back for the Limerick footballers.

Operating farther up the field, he was a top performer for his club Newcastle West, as they emulated their forebears from 1987 in reaching the Munster club final, kicking three points from play in a tight contest with Clonmel Commercials, which had spilled into extra time.

When the celebrations had broken out, he was observed taking a phone call on the pitch. Not everyone can bear to watch.

“My mother,” he explains. “She can’t handle the games. She’s a nervous wreck. I think she’s gone to one match in the last 10 years and that was the Munster final so I’ll keep her away from this Munster final.”

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Limerick ran into the propellers of eventual All-Ireland champions Kerry in the Munster final last June and opposition from the same part of the world awaits after Kerins O’Rahilly’s won the other semi-final in Tralee.

Sheehan knows his team will be underdogs again but they looked a capable outfit when taking on Clonmel, who had comprehensively beaten Nemo Rangers and also had the advantage of home county venue in Thurles. The Semple Stadium surface he reckons worked in his team’s favour.

“It’s a serious pitch. You should see what we were training on back at home. It’s not even our main pitch – I’d hate to even show you videos of it. It worked in our favour. The groundsman did an unbelievable job out there – I haven’t played on pitches that good at the height of summer in some places.

“We knew what we were getting into and luckily everything went our way on the day. We have been training in basically a bog since the county final. We rent lights and you can barely see, it’s like a mud-bath, and it’s stuff like that that brings the group closer together and come out of dog fights like this. It really works for us.”

Having set up more cautiously than Nemo, Newcastle West frustrated the favourites, giving them no time on the ball and breaking in fast-moving counter-attacks. According to Sheehan, a lot of effort went into strategising their opponents’ downfall.

“To be honest, it went very close to plan. We did a huge amount of work on Commercials and you need to do that for a team like that.”

Nonetheless, with the allocated five minutes of injury-time elapsed, his team were still a point down and probing with more anxiety than conviction before Ruadhan O’Connor came up with the goods. They must have feared the worst?

Sheehan pinpoints the couple of minutes before half-time when Clonmel erupted with 1-2 in about two minutes.

“Just before the end of the first half when they got the goal, I looked around and saw the heads dropping a small bit. Luckily, Diarmaid (Kelly) went up and got a great point. Going in at half-time, sure if we knew we would only be down a couple of points we would be in a happy place.

“It was tough to go to extra-time but we’ve a bit of experience of that over the last couple of weeks. We knew we had it in the legs. We had to try and push up and try as hard as we could.”

It’s a second Munster final for Newcastle West and in a way overdue for a club that has won four county titles in the past eight years. They’ll be hoping for better outcomes than 35 years ago when five days before Christmas, Nemo beat them by 21 points.

It’s more a curiosity for Sheehan who wasn’t born until eight years after the event.

“I was born in ‘95. I haven’t even watched a video of it – I’ve heard enough of it in the local, though. But it’s unreal, to beat a team like Commercials: if you look around their starting line-up, their bench they’ve some serious players and to go out and beat them will give a lot of confidence to the younger lads.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times