The County Senior Hurling Championship - 1988
Michael Ryan of Fennor, a nephew of Jim of Loughmore and Bloody Sunday fame, was so thrilled with the result of the county final that he invited the whole panel, selectors and their girls to a meal in Thurles. Tomsey Gleeson, a native of Cugilla but now residing in London, phoned up that he would supply a set of jerseys. The team on arrival at the Four Roads boarded a float and were played by the, local band to the village amidst scenes of wild enthusiasm, where the celebrations continued until the early hours.
Those happenings were representative of the tremendous feelings of joy and enthusiasm that filled every native of Loughmore-Castleiney when the final whistle sounded in the replayed county senior hurling final. The two points advantage in the mid team's favour was a great reward for the dedication and determination of a small parish of twelve hundred and fifty people. It was a just return for a team that went senior for the first time in 1981, won four mid titles and qualified for three county finals in the intervening years. Loughmore-Castleiney's victory, like Cappawhite's last year, gave hope to all those clubs that have never achieved the highest honour in county hurling. It also revealed that hurling dominance in the county is no longer the preserve of a few clubs.
Earlier in the year there were a number of expected contenders for the title. Cappawhite were regarded as good enough to make it two-in-a-row, many believing them to be unlucky in the Munster club final. Borrisoleigh, with their impressive array of talents would be in the shake-up if they could get out of the north. LoughmoreCastleiney would also be there or thereabouts.
The first big shock came in the first round of the west when ClonoultyRossmore summarily dismissed the county champions and installed themselves as favourites to succeed. Cashel had other ideas and, in a very impressive display at Dundrum, sent Clonoulty crashing to defeat. Cashel went on to win the west in an unimpressive display against Kickhams at Cappawhite.
The Other Divisions
Meanwhile in the South Killenaule ended a twenty-five year famine when they took the south title for the first time since 1963, beating St. Mary's at Fetha'rd. On the same day Borrisoleigh were taking their twelfth title in the north, providing their supporters with a fine-display of hurling to defeat Roscrea by seven points. A week later, at Templemore, Loughmore-Castleiney completed a hat-trick of mid senior hurling titles when they beat HolycrossBallycahill by three points in one of the best finals for years.
Three of the county quarter-finals were scheduled for the weekend of August 13-14. The fourth was delayed because of the north play-off to decide on the second team to represent that division. In that game Roscrea seemed coasting to victory when they led ten points to seven with thirteen minutes remaining. Then a fortuitous goal by Michael Cleary revitalised Nenagh's effort and they had six points to spare at the final whistle.
Two quarter-final games of very mediocre quality were played at Boherlahan on August 14. Joe O'Dwyer, playing at corner-forward, was the star of Killenaule's easy victory over Kickhams. He scored 2-5 of his side's total of 5-14 and Killenaule dominated the game for most of the hour. Kickhams got two goals in the last eight minutes to give a look of respectability to a rather dismal performance. Their final tally was 4-6.
In the second game, Cashel were unimpressive against an injury-hit St. Mary's. The South runners-up kept in touch with the West champions all through because of Cashel's failure to translate superiority on the field into scoring opportunities. In the end Cashel had eight points to spare on a score of 3-11 to 2-6.
On the previous evening at Templemore, Borrisoleigh were very lucky to survive by one point against Holycross-Ballycahill. In a thrilling game the mid runners-up squandered a number of first class chances of forcing a draw in the final few minutes and were beaten by 1-9 to 1-8. In contrast the North champions could be thankful for the efforts of Noel O'Dwyer, who was deadly accurate from the placed ball, scoring six points in all.
The fourth quarter-final wasn't played until September 11. It seemed as if Eire Óg, Nenagh would be victorious. Although playing against the breeze in the first half they led Loughmore-Castleiney by four points to three at the interval. In fact they should have been more in front but for many wasted scoring opportunities. Soone after the resumption Philip Kennedy put them ahead with a point from a sixty-five. But then the game turned completely about when a Pat McGrath sideline puck went all the way to the nenagh net. A further point and a goal followed and Loughmore-Castleiney hurled very well for about fifteen minutes, building up an eight-point lead. Nenagh came back somewhat into the game in the final quarter but a last-minute goal by Seamie Bohan had the Mid champions in front by 3-8 to 0-9 at the final whistle.
A Four Division Draw
Not since 1967 were all divisions represented in the county semi-finals. The draw brought Borrisoleigh against Cashel and Loughmore-Castleiney against Killenaule. Because of the AllIreland football final the games were split with north versus west at Thurles on Saturday evening, September 17, and the mid versus south encounter on Sunday, September 18.
Borrisoleigh were favourites to beat Cashel but the latter had other ideas. The west champions started off well and were three points to one ahead after eleven minutes. Then a sixty-yard free by Noel O'Dwyer was touched to the net by Aidan Ryan, while the Cashel goalkeeper and fullback stood indecisevely. This blow seemed to knock the fight out of cashel, who were further stunned in the eighteenth minutes with a second Borrisoleigh goal by Philip Kenny. At half-time Borrisoleigh were ahead by 2-5 to 0-4. On the resumption the northmen added a goal and two points to open a twelve-point gap. Only at this stage did Cashel regain the fluency they showed m the opening ten minutes. In a great last quarter rally they reduced the lead to five points. But for superb goalkeeping by Noelie Maher in the Borris goal and the ineffectiveness of the Cashel inside forward line the result could easily have been different than the final score of 3-8 to 2-6.
The second semi-final at Cashel on Sunday evening finished a very onesided affair after a first close first half. At the end of this stage LoughmoreCastleiney had a two-point advantage over Killenaule in a score of eight points to six. However, the mid men changed to a much faster gear after the interval and scored 2-3 in the third quarter. They dominated the game and were ahead by 2-18 to 1-9 at the final whistle. The Killenaule goal came in the dying minutes and gave a slight respectability to Killenaule's performance.
Borrisoleigh were fancied for the final and most people believed that their class would tell in the end and that they would take their seventh senior title. They were coached for the encounter by Paddy Doyle while LoughmoreCastleiney had the services of the wider known, Jimmy.
A great game was expected but, as so often happens, it didn't materialise. In damp conditions, with Semple Stadium totally lacking in any liveliness, the game developed into an intense but scrappy encounter, kept interesting by the closeness of the scores. It was a game of appalling misses and poor hurling.
The first half was undistinguished except for a great free from a sideline cut by Tom McGrath from seventy yards and a goal by Seamus Bohan two minutes from half time which gave Loughmore-Castleiney a 1-3 to 0-3 lead at the interval. Borrisoleigh played their best hurling in the third quarter and went into the lead. LoughmoreCastleiney came back into the game and went two points ahead, but Noel O'Dwyer and Conor Stakelum points brought the sides level with six minutes to go, and that's how it finished with Borrisoleigh nine points to one-six for Loughmore-Castleiney. It was the northmen's third successive county final appearance without scoring a goal.
The replay was fixed for six days later, October 8. It was the first replayed final since 1982 and the first time for a senior final to be played on a Saturday. The replayed All-Ireland senior football final prevented a Sunday fixture. Floury Ryan's wedding and Liam Cormack's emigration made a later date impossible.
The replay will be remembered for its sensational ending. Two minutes to go Borrisoleigh seemed almost certainties. They were two points up and set for victory. Loughmore-Castleiney kept plugging away. The ball was making its tortuous progress along the Kinane Stand side of the field. At the far side Pat McGrath was following its progress and keeping parallel with it. When Liam Cormack's shot was blocked out by Noellie Maher, McGrath was present to slap home an all-important goal. Michael McGrath shot another point from the puck-out and a devastated Borrisoleigh were left without time to redress the situation.
It was a victory for the never-say-die spirit of Loughmore-Castleiney. With the benefit of the breeze in the first half Loughmore-Castleiney, as a result of many misses, could turn over with a lead of only two points in a scoreline of 1-2 to 0-3. The wise heads around the stand were predicting that it would only be a matter of time before Borrisoleigh stamped their superiority on the game. Not only had they the advantage of a stiffish breeze but they also had the heavy mist that began to fall at the interval. A deflected goal by Aidan Ryan in the nineteenth minute of the second half seemed to confirm this opinion. However, Borrisoleigh didn't seem to be able to deliver the decisive blow and were only two points up when Pat McGrath delivered his killer punch.
The game was more memorable for tension and excitement and the spectacular finish than for quality hurling. In fact, with the exception of the final ten minutes, the fare was as poor as in the drawn game. Borrisoleigh forwards let their side down. even Noel O'Dwyer, who had done so much to get the team past Holycross-Ballycahill in the quarter-final, couldn't find his shooting form. Among the backs Michael Ryan, Gerry Stapleton and Richard Stakelum were the pick of the bunch. On the winning side Jim McGrath must stand out for a very solid performance at centre-back. He was well assisted by Pat McGrath and Peter Brennan in the backs and Ned Ryan, Michael McGrath and Liam Cormack upfield.
To the question were there any county men hanging around the answer must be in the negative. Apart from the established players, who added no cubits to their statures, there was little else in the line of county talent. What the game showed was that success at this level can be gained by a bunch of middling players, knowing one another and combining well with grit and determination. Loughmore-Castleiney set out to win and to erase from the minds the memory of two previous defeats at this stage. They succeeded in their task and their joy was immense.
The successful side was: F. McGrath, B. Cormack, P. Brennan, E. Brennan, P. McGrath,J. Maher, E. Sweeney (capt.), N. Ryan, T. McGrath, M. McGrath, P. Treacy, S. Bohan, L. Cormack, J. Cormack, T. Larkin. Subs: M. Meagher for Larkin; J. Treacy for Bohan. Other subs: D. Kiely, T. Gleeson, J. Nolan, J. Kennedy, T. McGrath, S. Maher, J. Mockler, P. Gleeson, P. Morris, M. McGrath, D. McGrath, T. Cullen. Coach: Jack Walsh. Selectors: Pat Cullen, Tommy Egan, Joe Grady, Mick McGrath.
The Borrisoleigh side was: N. Maher, B. Kenny, T. Stapleton, M. Ryan, R. Stakelum, G. Stapleton, B. Ryan (capt.), T. Ryan, C. Stakelum, N. O'Dwyer, J. McGrath, S. Devaney, A. Ryan, P. Kenny. Subs: J. Maher, J. Glasheen, J. Ryan, C. Reid, P. Delaney, J. Loughnane, J. J. Maher, F. Doolan. Coach: Paddy Doyle. Selectors: M. Coen, Brendan Kenny, Tommy O'Dwyer. Referee: Willie Barrett, Ardfinnan. Man of the match: Pat McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney).
Results at a Glance
October 2, 1988 - Thurles: Borrisoleigh 0-9, LoughmoreCastleiney 1-6. Referee: Willie Barrett, Ardfinnan.
Replay, October 8, 1988 - Thurles: Loughmore-Castleiney 2-7, Borrisloeigh 1-8. Referee: Willie Barrett, Ardfinnnan.
September 17, 1988 - Thurles: Borrisoleigh 3-8, Cashel King Cormacs 2-6. Referee: Willie Barrett, Ardfinnan.
September 18 1988- Cashel: Loughmore-Castleiney 2-18, Killenaule 1-9. Referee: John Moloney, Bansha.
August 14, 1988 - Boherlahan: Killenaule 5-14, Kickhams (W) 4-6. Referee: John Maher, Boherlahan-Dualla.
Cashel King Cormac's 3-11, 8t. Mary's (S) 2-6. Referee: Johnny McDonnell, Roscrea.
August 13, 1988 - Templemore: Borrisoleigh 1-9, Holycross-Ballycahilll-8. Referee: Willie Barrett, Ardfinnan.
September 11, 1988 - Cashel: Loughmore-Castleiney 3-8, Eire Og (N) 0-9 Referee: George Ryan, Lattin.
July 24, 1988 - Fethard: Killenaule 1-14, St. Mary's 2-6 Referee: Willie Barrett, Ardfinnan.
Cappawhite: Cashel 1-12, Kickhams 1-4 Referee: Paddy Russell, Emly.
Nenagh: Borrisoleigh 1-14, Roscrea. Referee: Michael Cahil, Kilruane-MacDonaghs.
July 31, 1988 - Templemore: Loughmore-Castleiney 3-9, Holycros-Ballycahill 0-15. Referee: Donie O'Gorman, Thurles Sarsfields.
Play-off, August 14,1988 (North) Borrisoleigh: Eire Og 2-10, Roscrea 0-1. Referee: Gerry Long, Knockshegowna.
Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 1988, pp 57-59