John McGrath comes up trumps for Loughmore-Castleiney again

Tipperary club complete the county double with McGrath notching both winning scores

John McGrath of Loughmore-Castleiney scores the winning point during the Tipperary SHC final against Thurles Sarsfields. Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

John McGrath of Loughmore-Castleiney scores the winning point during the Tipperary SHC final against Thurles Sarsfields. Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

Loughmore-Castleiney 2-14 Thurles Sarsfields 2-13

A lesson to everyone on the end of a sporting setback: regroup and go again. Loughmore-Castleiney, plunged into gloom a year ago by two county final defeats in injury-time, have now accomplished the double in Tipperary.

Sunday’s hurling final went the distance, playing concertos on the nerve strings of the supporters in a crowd of 4,215, before John McGrath for the second week running hit the winning score - a tight-angled free to go with the sensational goal that downed football champions Clonmel seven days previously - in injury-time to satisfy the requirements of drama and karma.

Fifteen panelists out of 19 used by the double winners were common to both teams.

Having fallen adrift in the second half, Thurles Sarsfields looked to have saved themselves and extra time was on the cards when county colleagues McGrath and Pádraic Maher tussled for the ball in the Kinane/Town corner and the forward won the fateful free.

Winning manager - on both weekends - Frankie McGrath said that he had been confident.

“Oh sure that’s what John McGrath does. John McGrath is the man for the big stage. He’d probably hit it wide if we were above in training. But look, John had a spell there where things maybe weren’t going 100 per cent for him with Tipperary and whatever but John has always delivered for us.”

In many respects the match resembled the drawn encounter from earlier in the month. Thurles looked the more composed and threatening for most of the first half. Loughmore hit a litany of wides (12) whereas their opponents kept the total at four and once again their established forwards, Denis Maher and Pa Bourke got the scoreboard numbers clicking.

If anyone thought Bourke could hardly repeat his five from play of the drawn match, they were right but when his fourth sailed over the bar in the 24th minute it looked unlikely. Thurles led 0-9 to 0-6 at half-time.

“We didn’t find our best form early on,” said Frankie McGrath. “We had a few wides (but) the character of the team is unquestionable. It wasn’t going our way in the first half but we kept our composure and we were confident that we would find our range and continue to trouble Sarsfields.”

And so, the stage was set for a second half that would prove an absorbing climax to the Tipp championship. For those waiting for Loughmore’s crazy schedule - 17 weeks and counting with the provincial football opener against Clare’s Éire Óg up next week - to catch up with them, they’re still waiting.

Again like in the drawn final, Thurles fell flat on the resumption. The usually precise Aidan McCormack missed a close-in free and when Loughmore replacement Evan Sweeney cut the deficit to one, 0-8 to 0-9 five minutes into the half, their opponents had already hit four wides.

The again excellent John Meagher, back from injury last week, equalised with a great galvanizing point from distance.

But the big scores were goals. Loughmore looked to have cracked the game when the immensely effective Brian McGrath took possession and raced in from wing back to score it - just after they had been denied a fairly stone-wall free - in the 37th minute.

With the second water break in sight and Thurles fading out, wing back David Corbett launched a long ball that Billy McCarthy broke to Pa Bourke. His quick ball into Denis Maher gave the captain his third goal in the two matches. One quarter to go and a point in it, 1-11 to 1-10. Anyone’s game - and Corbett duly equalised.

Loughmore weren’t showing signs of tiring. Their energy was extraordinary considering the recent demands on it. Ciarán Connolly had been quieter than in the draw during the first half but his running and harrying came to the fore, as he pushed his team ahead.

Noel McGrath’s virtuoso quick thinking in 52nd minute when rushing in for a rebound after Paddy McCormack’s save from Liam McGrath, in touching it back to McGrath rather than blasting it, led to a critical second goal, restoring a four-point lead, 2-12 to 1-11, with time running out.

There has been more sinew to Thurles this season and less willingness to recognise hopeless causes, evident in how a poor second half didn’t sink them in the drawn match. Conor Stakelum turned over a puck-out with four minutes to go, advanced on goal, played it into Darragh Stakelum, who shot to the net.

Ronan Maher then put an afternoon’s questionable accuracy behind him with a long-range free to equalise.

Frankie McGrath reflected on it all.

“There was bound to be tension. And a greasy ball as well. I hope there was enough of good stuff in there to keep the people at home entertained.”

Safe to say.

Loughmore-Castleiney: Aidan McGrath; Willie Eviston, Joey Hennessy, Lorcan Egan; Tommy Maher, John Meagher (0-1), Brian McGrath (1-0); Ciarán Connolly (0-1), Tomás McGrath (0-1); Noel McGrath (capt; 0-2), Liam Treacy, Ed Connolly; John McGrath (0-7, five frees, one 65), Ciarán McGrath, Liam McGrath (1-0).

Subs: Evan Sweeney (0-1) for E Connolly (half-time), Ciarán McCormack (0-1) for Treacy (47 mins), John Ryan for T Maher (58 mins), Conor McGrath for T McGrath (62 mins).

Thurles Sarsfields: Paddy McCormack; Seosamh Ryan, Pádraic Maher, Ronan Maher (0-2, one free); David Corbett (0-1), Jack Derby, Paul Maher; Stephen Cahill, Michael Cahill; Darragh Stakelum (1-0), Billy McCarthy, Aidan McCormack (0-3, one free); Pa Bourke (0-4), Denis Maher (capt; 1-2), Paddy Creedon.

Subs: Kieran Moloney for M Cahill (42 mins), Conor Stakelum for Creedon (47 mins), Seánie Butler (0-1) for A McCormack (52 mins), Eoin Purcell for D Stakelum (62 mins)

Referee: John McCormack (Knockavilla/Donaskeigh Kickhams).

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