Thurles Sarsfields 2-17 Loughmore Castleiney 0-23
A storming finale pushed the Tipperary hurling final to a replay. A long-range free, nailed by Ronan Maher as injury time approached, looked to have rescued the day for Thurles but a late, late intervention by Liam McGrath, coming in from the right, tied it up and a potential line ball for Loughmore went unawarded as referee Conor Doyle blew the final whistle.
In different circumstances you might say something for everyone but the draw adds another fixture to Loughmore’s apparently endless season, which moves on to the county football final, scheduled for next weekend.
The remarkable dual club was outsiders for both finals but they turned around the hurling after an unpromising opening. They were hit by a swift one-two from Thurles captain Denis Maher in the space of about 60 seconds in the 10th minute.
First, Darragh Stakelum's long, dropping ball was touched into the net and then he raced in from the right wing and drew a good save from Aidan McGrath but netted the rebound to give the favourites a 2-4 to 0-3 lead.
Speaking afterwards, John McGrath, whose 0-12 provided Loughmore with an escape route, said that the goals had hit them hard after he felt they had settled in the opening 10 minutes.
The goals also meant that they trailed by six or seven for most of the remainder of the first half. Their renowned battling qualities kept them afloat but they also hit an expensive looking eight wides.
Furthermore, the game was being played on Thurles’ terms. Whereas Loughmore put their efforts into taking on the opposition defence, the attempts foundered on the physical presence of the Maher brothers, Pádraic and Ronan, whose big hitting also got more economical attacks moving.
It’s likely both teams were happy with the half-time situation. Thurles led by four, 2-9 to 0-11 and if they might have hoped their two goals would have provided the basis of a bigger lead they had responded well to their opponents’ scoring bursts - twice getting three points in succession.
Loughmore would have been glad not to be out of sight given the goals.
The second half display of their defence transformed the contest. John Meagher had been characteristically influential but his colleagues, including Brian McGrath who had defied a hand injury to start and play an important role, swarmed into action after the break. Despite plenty of territory and possession, Thurles couldn't make it count on the scoreboard.
By the second water break, the lead had been halved. Maher nearly had his hat-trick after Joe Hennessy slipped on a short re-start and the Thurles captain was put in on goal but McGrath saved well for a '65, converted by Aidan McCormack.
In fact both teams lived dangerously on short puck-outs and despite a beautiful afternoon and an amazing surface for November, a shower of rain earlier in the day had left it a bit slippery.
The final quarter initially looked as if Loughmore had completed a feisty comeback. They were quick out of the traps after the second water break. It was predictably a McGrath-led barrage. Brothers John and Noel got the match level for the first time in 40 minutes and replacement Ciarán edged them ahead before John doubled the lead.
Thurles have a relatively new team but were old habits dying hard with a decent lead overturned? In fairness they responded and Pa Bourke, who was excellent with five from play, responded immediately to cauterise the damage.
Just as significantly, Paul Maher’s hook on Liam McGrath averted serious danger before McCormack equalised.
It ran from there with a bigger than expected crowd of 6,500 in a welter of excitement with four points being split evenly between them.
The replay was confirmed as being on November 28th at 3.15.
Thurles Sarsfields: Paddy McCormack; Seosamh Ryan, Pádraic Maher, Paul Maher (0-1); David Corbett, Jack Derby, Ronan Maher (0-1, free); Stephen Cahill, Michael Cahill; Darragh Stakelum (0-1), Conor Stakelum (0-1), Aidan McCormack (0-6, 0-3 frees and 0-1 '65); Pa Bourke (0-5), Denis Maher (capt; 2-1), Paddy Creedon (0-1). Subs: Cathal Moloney for Derby (51 mins), Billy McCarthy for A McCormack (57 mins)
Loughmore-Castleiney: Aidan McGrath (0-1, free); Lorcan Egan, Joey Hennessy, Willie Eviston; Tommy Maher, John Meagher, Brian McGrath; Tomás McGrath, Ciarán Connolly (0-2); Evan Sweeney (0-1), Liam McGrath (0-3), Noel McGrath (capt; 0-3, one line ball); Ed Connolly, Liam Treacy, John McGrath (0-12, 0-8 frees). Subs: Ciarán McGrath (0-1) for E Connolly (47 mins), Conor McGrath for Sweeney (52 mins).
Referee: Conor Doyle (Silvermines).