Pádraic Maher and Thurles Sarsfields keen to push on

Tipperary kingpins determined to improve on their pretty modest record in Munster

November falls and the club picture starts to de-fog a little.

Thurles Sarsfields' one-point win over Ballygunner on Sunday leaves them as odds-on favourites for Munster and joint-favourites for the All-Ireland alongside Galway champions St Thomas's.

And yet, considering what history tells us about the three-in-a-row Tipp champions and their form outside their own county, the task ahead might not just be as straightforward as the odds suggest.

For a start, they will have to break new ground this coming Sunday in Ennis and beat a Clare team for the first time in the Munster club championship. It’s something they’ve never managed, albeit they’ve only come across Clare opposition twice down the years – losing to Cratloe two years ago and Newmarket-on-Fergus away back in 1974. It’s an itch they’ll need to scratch, one way or another.


“We’ve been there before, against Cratloe two years ago when we didn’t do ourselves justice,” says Pádraic Maher.

“But we’ll be looking forward to the trip, getting our bodies right; we’ll be back in in the morning again, get a recovery on and we’ll work from there.

“I suppose, we know from being involved in Tipperary teams over the years that going down to Ennis is not an easy thing to do. But we’re relishing the challenge. These games are great, and if you can’t rise yourselves for these challenges, you shouldn’t be playing at this end of the year.”

First win

Sunday was Thurles’s first win outside Tipperary since 2012, having fallen at the first hurdle in Munster for the last two seasons. This is a team laden with talent – seven of the starting line-up against Ballygunner have played senior for Tipperary and three of the defence will don a black tie on Friday night for the All Stars. That’s some fairly outrageous artillery for a club side to have at its disposal.

Given that level of quality, they frankly ought have a far superior provincial record. This is their seventh campaign in the province since 2005 and so far, they've only been to two finals, winning one in 2012 against De La Salle of Waterford.

Maher knows well it’s a paltry enough return, given their dominance of the Tipp championship, in which they’ve racked up six of the last eight titles. Time to follow through.

“Yeah, we’ve been here six or seven times before over the last number of years and we’ve only managed to get through it once.

“We’ve been beaten in games before and only been beaten by one or two points; likewise we’ve won games by only one or two points.

“There’s nothing in these games and this game proved that point. We’ve plenty of experienced guys there, but we’re still a young team as well.”

Maher had a lordly afternoon on Sunday, playing a free role ranging around the Thurles defence, plucking anything that went high and mopping up anything that spilled.

Both sides mirrored each other in leaving the opposition number six to roam free and it meant Maher and opposite number Philip Mahony could affect the game relatively untroubled. The Tipp player of the year candidate controlled his area with faultless authority, especially in the first half.

Lively team

“We looked at Ballygunner. They work with the ball; everyone works back with the ball and then they move forward with it as well but we just wanted to shore it up at the back as much as we could as well and not leave too much space because they are a lively team.

“But you play it as it comes during these kind of games, these Munster club matches are unreal games to play in – we’re absolutely thrilled.

“You’d always be confident but, in fairness to Ballygunner, they gave us some battle, considering they’ve been playing week-in, week-out for six or seven weeks so fair dues to them.

“We needed everything there to finish but I suppose we wouldn’t be happy. We drove a lot of wides in the game, we seemed a bit uneasy in the first half, we got a few balls there 60 yards out and usually the boys would be banging them over.

“We’ve plenty to be working on for next weekend but we’re happy to have got through.”

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times