The County Senior Hurling Championship 2008
The following was the opening paragraph in the article on the senior hurling championship in the 1993 Yearbook: 'Toomevara bridged a thrity-two year gap when they captured the Dan Breen Cup for the first time since 1960 in a thrilling county final replay at Semple Stadium on November 8. In doing so they beat their opponents of over three decades ago, Thurles Sarsfields.'
The 1992 victory was their eleventh senior title and since then they have won ten more, their latest on October 19, when their victims were Thurles Sarsfields once again by 2-14 to 0-17. In fact in their eleven victories in the seventeen finals between 1992 and 2008 inclusive, Sarsfields have been the victims on five occasions, in 1992 as mentioned, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2008. Two players, Terry Dunne, who played at centrefield, and Tony Delaney, who came on as a sub, were there for all the victories and won all 11 medals, still a little way back from Mickey Byrne's 14 during his lifetime.
The county senior hurling championship had a much different look in 2008 as a result of an important change in direction following a special county convention on structures held in the Anner Hotel, Thurles on January 22.
For some time there was mounting criticism of the existing structures, which allowed for relegation. Many clubs believed that the fear of relegation was inhibiting their performances so that they lined out in the senior hurling championship with nothing but negative thoughts on how to avoid losing their senior status. Hurling at this level was no longer a joy.
There was a second criticism. For a number of years the intent of the structures was to reduce the number of senior teams in the county, believing that the fewer clubs we had the better for senior hurling, with Kilkenny's success the model with twelve teams. This had resulted in the reduction of the number of teams in the South and West to four senior teams. Albeit both divisions were protected from further reductions in numbers it was difficult to organise meaningful championships with so few clubs.
These developments led to a desire for change which was reflected in the number of proposals which were put forward for the special convention on January 22. The proposal that found favour with the delegates was the Fr. Sheehy proposal, which envisaged a new championship, divided into two competitions, the Dan Breen Cup proper with sixteen teams and a secondary competition, later to be named the Seamus Ó Riain Cup, after the former president of the county board, for teams that didn't qualify for the primary competition. There was no relegation.
The backing of the new proposals by a two-thirds majority, 55 to 26, was greater than expected but it reflected an 'alternative point of view' prevailing in the county on the matter of relegation, which was pointed out by West chairman, Mattie Finnerty, at the convention. In fact so discredited was the status quo that it received only 12 votes at the meeting.
The essence of the new proposals was permission to as many clubs as wished to enter teams in the senior hurling championship. There was a return of power to the divisions who were given the right to run their championships as they thought fit, so long as they produced teams for the Dan Breen Cup by a certain date. The number of teams was four per division which equated to the semi-finalists in the divisional championships
The new structures released a new energy in the divisions as clubs felt they had been given back their freedom to express themselves and run their own affairs. Affiliations increased in the North to 10, as Lorrha were promoted by virtue of winning the intermediate championship, in the Mid to 8, as Moycarkey-Borris, who had been trying for a number of years to win the intermediate, decided to go senior, in the South to 5, as Ballybacon-Grange went senior, and in the West to 6, as Eire Og and Golden-Kilfeacle entered the senior championship. Given the freedom to run their championships as they thought fit the North and the Mid opted for two groups, while the South and the West went for single leagues. While the top four teams in the South and the West qualified for the semi-finals, there was a different system in the North and Mid. There the top teams in the goups went straight to the semi-finals, while the second a third teams played off in quarter finals, with the winners qualifying for the semi-finals.
The North final had an unusual pairing as Kildangan returned from sixty-five years in the wilderness to take the North title at Nenagh on August 24, defeating Burgess in the process. The result did not appear likely as the winners trailed by ten points with fifteen minutes to go but they manufactured an amazing turnaround to win by two points on a scoreline of 1-17 to 2-12.
Three finals were played on August 31. In the Mid, Drom Inch recorded their second success at this level in three years and their third in all when they defeated Thurles Sarsfields by 2-19 to 0-21 at Templemore. The winners had much more urgency and determination about their play and they got a major display from Seamus Callanan, who recorded a personal tally of 1-6.
In the South Killenaule retained their title and won their eighteenth championship in all, when they defeated Ballingarry by 3-15 to 1-10 at Monroe. Although the losers led by four points at the interval, Killenaule took complete control in the second half and had the game wrapped up long before the final whistle.
The West title was also retained when Clonoulty-Rossmore defeated Éire Óg by 1-13 to 0-9 at Dundrum on Sunday evening to take their twelfth championship. Clonoulty led by 0-7 to 0-2 at the interval and had control for most of the game even though Eire Óg, who were going for their ninth title, never gave up trying.
Dan Breen Cup First Round
All the teams that played for the divisional semi-finals qualified for the Dan Breen Cup. The eight teams that made the divisional finals were protected by being put in one side of the draw while the defeated semi-finalists were put in the other. The matches were played on September 13th, 20th and 21st.
Cappawhite defeated Éire Óg by 1-17 to 0-16 at Dundrum, and Loughmore-Castleiney defeated Killenaule by 2-13 to 2-10 at Cashel on September 13.
Four games were played on September 20. Clonoulty-Rossmore defeated Roscrea by 1-14 to 0-12 and Kildangan defeated Moycarkey-Borris by 2-14 to 0-19 at the Ragg. In the other two games at Dundrum Thurles Sarsfields trounced Golden-Kilfeacle by 6-16 to 2-12 and Drom Inch overcame Ballybacon-Grange by 1-15 to 1-10. The final two games were played o September 21. Toomevara defeated Burgess by 1-14 to 1-12 at Nenagh, and Mullinahone got the better of Ballingarry by 3-15 to 2-14 at Fethard.
The quarter-finals were played at Semple Stadium on the weekend of September 27/28, with two of the games played on Saturday and the remaining two on Sunday.
Tom Butler was the hero in Clonoulty-Rossmore's single point victory over Mullinahone on Saturday. It looked as if the game were going Mullinahone's way when Eoin Kelly pointed them in front in the final minute, but Butler came with his two late long-rangers, not only to bring his side level but to send them on to victory on a scoreline of 1-15 to 0-17. Mullinahone had seemed likely winners when they came from 1-8 to 0-5 down at the interval to take the lead near the end. The winners were helped by a resolute backline who conceded only eight points from play.
Although Loughmore-Castleiney won comfortably in the end they had to work hard for victory over Cappawhite in the second game. They led by by 1-8 to 0-6 at the interval and went further ahead soon after resuming. But Cappawhite came back with a goal from Paul Fitzgerald and got to within a point of Loughmore before levelling at 1-12 each in the forty-second minute. There was stalemate for a while until Loughmore gradually inched ahead after the fiftieth minute and Cappawhite's resistence was finally broken with a killer goal six minutes from time, when a McGrath delivery was touched to the net by Michael Webster, The final socre was 2-19 to 2-14 and it put Loughmore into the semi-final.
The games on Sunday were less close and less interesting. Toomevara proved much too good for North champions Kildangan, winning at ease on a score line of 1-22 to 1-13. The winners clocked up a six points to two lead in the first ten minutes. Kildangan came back into the game during the second-quarter and had a momentum going when the interval came and found them only a point behind on a scorline of ten points to nine. However the break did them no good and they weren't to score again until the seventeenth minute after resuming by which time Toomevara were nine points in front. They eventually won by this margin and revealed themselves as a very slick outfit with definite aspirations for another county title.
In the second game Thurles Sarsfields proved themselves much too good for Mid champions, Drom Inch, winning in a canter on a scoreline of 3-15 to 2-9 and reversing the result of the Mid final. The only time they looked threatened was in the seventh mionute when Seamus Callanan struck home a penalty and in the fifteenth minute when Michael Cantwell scored Drom Inch's second goal. By the break the Sarsfields were back in front by 1-9 to 2-5. In fact but for some horrific shooting they would have been much more in front. They scored 2-6 in the second half, while confining Drom Inch to four points and thoroughly deserved their nine-point victory. On the day's display they looked to be serious contenders for the Dan Breen Cup.
The Examiner described the first of the semi-finals, played at Semple Stadium on October 5, as 'passionless, lifeless, bloodless.' Another spectator described it as 'sleep-inducing'. It was incredible that two such talented teams, as Thurles Sarsfields and Clonoulty-Rossmore, could produce such a dreadful display. Clonoulty, at least, weren't fazed by the criticism. They went into the game as outsiders, at 10-1 at the bookies against winning the county final, while Sarsfields were even money, following their impressive display against Drom Inch the previous Sunday. Most of the scores came from frees with Pa Bourke getting 1-5 of his side's total of 1-9 and Timmy Hammersley getting 0-8 of Clonoulty's 0-11 during the first forty-eight minutes. Sarsfields led by 1-5 to 0-6 at the interval, kept in front until Clonoulty levelled with about six minutes to go, 1-10 to 0-13. Sarsfields raced ahead again with three points and it seemed curtains for Clonoulty but they came back with an answering three. In the sixtieth minute Sarsfield again hit the front when Lar Corbett pointed but Thomas Butler came back with a levelling point to send the sides to a replay on a scoreline of 1-14 to 0-17. The last twelve minutes redeemed somewhat a most forgettable game.
Many people looked forward to the second semi-final, between defending and Munster Club champions, Loughmore-Castleiney, and Toomevara, as the match of the year, but it turned out to be a damp squib and brought little entertainment to the crowd of less that five-thousand spectators. Loughmore stated brightly and had three points before Toomevara replied with three of their own. Loughmore went ahead again with three points but then Toomevara, having found their range after some bad misses, had a string of five points without reply. Each side then exchanged points to leave Toomevara in front by 0-9 to 0-7 at the interval. It had been disappointing fare and it continued so in the second half. The third quarter was a balanced affair with each side adding four points, but Toomevara came into their own in the final quarter as Loughmore wilted and became guilty of extraordinary bad wides. They scored only two points in this final period while Toomevara added a number of points to win by 0-17 to 0-13. It was poor scoring on a good hurling day, with goals never really threatened and a huge tally of wides on each side, Loughmore chalking up fifteen and Toomevara going two better at seventeen.
The replay of the Thurles Sarsfields-Clonoulty-Rossmore game took place at Semple Stadium a week later. A goal from Lar Corbett in the second minute of extra time helped Sarsfields to a hard-fought win. Clonoulty looked set to win as they led by five points with eight minutes to play. But Sarsfields, inspired by substitutes Johnny Enright and Richie Ruth, rallied to draw level in the third minute of injury time. Earlier Clonoulty had a goal on the stroke of half-time to take the lead on a scoreline of 1-7 to 1-6. They continued to have the upper hand in the second half and twice went five points clear but Sarsfields clawed themselves back and shot five unanswered points in the last eight minutes to bring the game to extra time on a score of 1-16 each. Clonoulty had the first point in extra time but then came Corbett's goal and Sarsfields led by 2-17 to 1-19 at the break. They finished the stronger side as the greater depth of talent in their panel began to make an impact and Clonoulty ran out of steam. In the second half of added time they added five points to Clonoulty's one to win comfortably by 2-22 to 1-20.
The final took place at Semple Stadium on October 19 on a blustery, overcast day that reduced the crowd to one of the smallest for years. The bookies couldn't make up their minds about the prospects of the contestants, with Celtic Bookmakers making Thurles Sarsfields favourites and Paddy Power fancying Toomevara. The majority opinion among the punters was a fancy for Toomevara, especially in the light of their recent history against the Sarsfields. There was also the belief that the replayed semi-final and the extra time against Clonoulty-Rossmore the previous Sunday would have taken a toll.
The game will be remembered for a wonderful individual display by Toomevara's number 12, Eoin Brislane, who scored 1-5 from play. He was effortless in everything he did, showed speed and efficiency in his striking and eluded his markers with grace and skill. He was lucky to have been left on for the hour after a reckless pull in the opening quarter of the game. His yellow card was one of seven dished out in the course of the hour in a game that had numerous indiscretions but provided some great passages of play as well.
Thurles Sarsfields had the better start with a five point to one lead after fifteen minutes, although playing against a strong breeze. Two minutes later Toomevara got an important break when a shot from Brislane saved superbly by the Sarsfields goalkeeper, was scrambled to the net by Willie Ryan. Toomevara had the better of the second quarter, were denied a goal from John O'Brien coming up to the break and had a number of points to lead by two at the interval, 1-6 to 0-5.
Thurles resumed the second-half with Lar Corbett on the forty but he got little space from Benny Dunne and the game developed around Eoin Brislane's performance at full-forward. He moved with ease around his marker and got some exquisite scores, his goal in the twenty-seventh minute the defining score in the game. Everything he tried came off and he was definitely deserving of the Man of the Match Award.
At the other end only Johnny Enright made inroads into the Toomevara backs, scoring thirteen points in all, six from play, most of them from well out the field. Sarsfields inside forward line had no answer to the teak tough, efficient Toom inside back line, who seemed to be able to clear the ball unchallenged whenever it came near their goals. In the end Enright's points kept Thurles at the races and they did come within three points of the winners by the final whistle but it served only to put a respectable look of the scoreboard and the final score was 2-14 to 0-17 in favour of Toomevara.
Toomevara: James McGrath, Patrick Tuohy, David Young, Paul McGrath, Padraig Hackett, Benny Dunne, Joseph McLoughney (0-1), Terry Dunne (0-1), Francis Devaney (0-2), Paddy O'Brien (0-1), Ken Dunne (0-4), Eoin Brislane (1-5), Michael Bevans (capt.), John O'Brien, Willie Ryan (1-0). Subs: John Delaney for Bevans, David Kennedy for O'Brien, Tony Delaney for Ryan. Also: Justin Cottrell, John Boland, Kieran Brislane, Darren Cuddihy, Barry Dunne, Paddy Grace, Denis Kelly, Thomas McCarthy, Kieran McGrath, Andrew Ryan, Ronan Ryan, Conor O'Meara, David Nolan.
Manager: Vincent McKenna. Selectors: Frank Devaney, Michael O'Meara, Owen Cuddihy. Trainer: Joe Quinn
Thurles Sarsfields: Patrick McCormack, Michael Coillins,Padraig Maher, Kevin O'Gorman, Michael Cahill, Liam Cahill, Tom King, Stephen Lillis, Shane Ryan, Wayne Cully, Lar Corbett (0-1), Johnny Enright (0-13), Pa Bourke, Ger O'Grady (0-1), Richie Ruth. Subs: Garry Mernagh for Shane Ryan, Jim Corbett for Richie Ruth (0-2), John Lawlor for Tom King, Tony Ruth for Ger O'Grady. Also: Bill McCormack, Barry O'Dwyer, Stephen Mason, David O'Dwyer, John Lillis, Tommy Collins, John Maher, Colm Rourke, Eoin Russell, Patrick Leahy, Tony Connolly, Michael Gleeson, Kevin O'Halloran,
Man of the Match: Eoin Brislane.
Referee: Noel Cosgrove (Marlfield)
Results of 2008 Dan Breen Cup at a Glance
Sept. 13 at Dundrum: Cappawhite 1-17 Eire Óg 0-16 (Ref: Noel Cosgrove)
Sept. 13 at Cashel: Loughmore-Castleiney 2-13 Killenaule 2-10 (Ref: Sean Bradshaw)
Sept. 20 at Ragg: Clonoulty-Rossmore 1-14 Roscrea 0-12 (Ref: Noel Cosgrove)
Sept. 20 at Ragg: Kildangan 2-14 Moycarkey-Borris 0-19 (Ref: Seamus Roche)
Sept. 20 at Dundrum: Thurles Sarsfields 6-16 Golden-Kilfeacle 2-12 (Ref: John Cleary)
Sept, 20 at Dundrum: Drom Inch 1-15 Ballybacon-Grange 1-10 (Ref: Phil Ryan)
Sept. 21 at Nenagh: Toomevara 1-14 Burgess 1-12 (Ref: Richie Barry)
Sept. 21 at Fethard: Mullinahone 3-15 Ballingarry 2-14 (Ref: Johnny Ryan)
Sept. 27 at Semple Stadium: Loughmore-Castleiney 2-19 Cappawhite 2-14 (Ref: Seamus Roche)
Sept. 27 at Semple Stadium: Clonoulty-Rossmore 1-15 Mullinahone 0-17 (Ref: Tommy Ryan)
Sept. 28 at Semple Stadium: Toomevara 1-22 Kildangan 1-13 (Ref: Johnny Ryan)
Sept. 28 at Semple Stadium: Thurles Sarsfields 3-15 Drom Inch 2-9 (Ref: Richie Barry)
Oct. 5 at Semple Stadium: Clonoulty-Rossmore 0-17 Thurles Sarsfields 1-14 (Ref: J. McDonnell)
Oct. 5 at Semple Stadium: Toomevara 0-17 Loughmore-Castleiney 0-13 (Ref: Seamus Roche)
Oct. 12 at Semple Stadium: Thurles Sarsfields 2-22 Clonoulty-Rossmore 1-20 (AET) (Ref: J. Cleary)
Oct. 19 at Semple Stadium: Toomevara 2-14 Thurles Sarsfields 0-17 (Ref: Noel Cosgrove)
Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 2009, pp 45-49