Munster Club SHC – Thurles Sarsfields v Newtownshandrum

Newtownshandrum (Cork) defeated Thurles Sarsfields (Tipperary) by 0-19 to 1-15 in the AIB Munster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship Q-Final.

Winter wonderland for nifty Newtown

Newtownshandrum 0-19 Thurles Sarsfields 1-15

By Diarmuid O’Flynn for the Irish Examiner newspaper

Monday, November 02, 2009

ON A day when winter finally came to town, with cold driving rain under stormy darkening skies, two outstanding club sides nevertheless combined to give us a club hurling match of the uppermost quality in this, the opening round of the Munster Club SHC. Even the magnificent sod in Semple Stadium can only withstand so much, and the heavy rains over the past few days meant conditions underfoot were testing, to put it mildly, yet the crowd of 3,500 witnessed hurling of the highest order, score-taking from the top drawer. For Newtownshandrum the peerless Ben O’Connor ended with a Grand Slam, scoring points from play, from frees, from a 65 and from a sideline, midfielder Cathal Naughton scorched through for three points, while Ben’s twin brother Jerry also had a hat-trick, two of his points coming in the trench warfare of the second-half while being marshalled by no less a defender than recently crowned All Star Pádraic Maher. The second of those points was the match-winner, in the first minute of added time after a pass from minor star Jamie Coughlan, and the Newtown youngster, having come close to man-of-the-match in the Cork final a few weeks ago, was again impressive yesterday, this time for his work-rate.

And yet, he wasn’t the most impressive minor on the pitch – that honour fell to Thurles Sarsfields wing-forward Denis Maher. A Tipperary minor this year, Denis finished with six superb points from play, was the leading light for Thurles, while Pa Bourke, All-Ireland minor winner with Tipp three years ago, also added to a growing reputation of his own, finished with 1-5. Just as they had done in the only previous meeting of the sides, back in 2005, Thurles Sarsfields again had a superb start, led 1-1 to zero after three minutes courtesy of Pa Bourke, the goal coming after a long, wind-assisted centre from midfielder Alan Kennedy. Newtown came back from that, and in a blistering four-minute spell, points from Ryan Clifford, Michael Bowles, Cathal Naughton and Jerry O’Connor had them level in the sixth minute. The wind was a factor, however, and with the rain holding off, Thurles Sars it was again gaining the ascendancy and with Maher and Bourke shining, in the 20th minute they led by six, 1-10 to 0-7. One thing about Newtownshandrum, however, and a fact well known in Cork – they are never easily beaten, and again they came back; five points before the break, the last of those a superb sideline cut by the ever more prominent Ben O’Connor, left just one between them at the break, Thurles ahead 1-10 to 0-12. Those who thought this would be easy for the Cork champions were being proved wrong, very wrong.

Five minutes into the second half the sides were level, a pointed free by Ben, soon negated by Denis Maher, but three minutes later, and courtesy of points from Jerry O’Connor and Cathal Naughton, Newtownshandrum took the lead for the first time in the game, 0-15 to 1-11. It was a short-lived lead, however, and from there to the finish, in conditions made worse by the showers falling since the break, it was as much a battle of wills as a contest of skills. That they eventually prevailed, then, huge credit must go to Newtownshandrum. A team that thrives on pace and control, these were far from their ideal conditions, favoured the bigger, stronger Sarfields team, yet they dogged it out. Most prominent in those final minutes was Ben O’Connor, shifted from the corner to midfield but popping up everywhere. Jerry got the winner, but Ben it was with the three Newtown points before that, and all from inside his own half.

“What more can I say about this man,” said Newtown captain Dermot Gleeson, who had a sterling match himself – “He has won more than most who ever played the game, yet he was still back there at the end around the half-back line, busting his arse, clearing ball – they’re serious men, the O’Connors. It mightn’t have been the most spectacular performance ever by us, but there are days like this when it’s more about character.” His display said all that needs to be said about Ben, but his reaction at the finish said more – for him, for Newtownshandrum, this one meant a lot: “For a couple of days after the county final I had no interest in this but we got back training the Friday night after it and I think you see the interest we have in this after that game there today. We were down six or seven points at one stage in the first half and we could have said, ‘Ah we have enough’, but we didn’t, we dug in and we got it back to a point just before half-time.

“Fellas were doing everything they could to win it, from (William) Biggane in goal to Jamie (Coughlan) in the corner at the other end of the field – every fella was doing everything they could to win it, hooking, blocking. It’s very easy for a forward to be lazy if the ball is cleared but here in this squad we think an awful lot of the hooking and the blocking. “Our backs would be delighted with us to see it and we’re delighted with our backs the way they give us the ball so it works together – if they’re happy with us and we’re happy with them, things aren’t too bad.” After this, everyone in Cork has to be happy with Newtownshandrum, but spare a thought today for Sars – they too did their county proud.

Scorers for Newtownshandrum: B. O’Connor 0-8 (0-4 frees, 0-1 65, 0-1 s/l); Jerry O’Connor 0-3; C. Naughton 0-3; R. Clifford 0-2; J. Coughlan, PJ Copse, M. Bowles, 0-1 each.

Thurles Sarsfields: P. Bourke 1-5 (0-2 frees, 0-1 s/l); D. Maher 0-6; S. Ryan 0-2; J. Enright, M. Gleeson, 0-1 each.

NEWTOWNSHANDRUM: W. Biggane; D. Gleeson (c), B. Mulcahy, J. O’Mahony; S. O’Riordan, P. Mulcahy, P. Noonan; PJ Copse, C. Naughton; R. Clifford, Jerry O’Connor, M. Bowles; J. Coughlan, John O’Connor, Ben O’Connor.

Subs: JP King (John O’Connor 50); J. O’Herlihy (Bowles 58).

THURLES SARSFIELDS: P. McCormack; M. Cahill, P. Maher, K. O’Gorman; S. Lillis, L. Cahill, B. O’Dwyer; A. Kennedy, M. Gleeson; D. Maher, S. Ryan, L. Corbett; P. Bourke, J. Enright (c), R. Ruth.

Subs: D. Kennedy (Ruth 42); G. O’Grady (Ryan 47).

Referee: G. Hoey (Clare)


O’Connors drive ‘Drum past Sars as Munster title looms large

By MARTIN BREHENY for the Irish Independent newspaper

Monday November 02 2009

THE GAA celebrated its historic occasion in style in Thurles yesterday, but the day took a desperately disappointing turn for the local Sarsfields club when they were edged out by a single point in a thrilling first round tie. Thurles made a huge contribution to a memorable encounter, but lost out to a stoppage-time point by Jerry O’Connor, who pounced on a breaking ball after an attempted clearance by Michael Cahill was blocked down. Thurles had a late chance to send the game into extra-time, but Pa Bourke’s long-range free drifted wide. Bourke had earlier scored 1-5 (1-2 from play), while centre-forward, Denis Maher scored six from play but, elsewhere, the Thurles attack was shackled by the Newtownshandrum defence. Apart from a few dainty touches, Lar Corbett made no real impact, but, with Bourke and Maher in enterprising form, Thurles had every chance to send their fans in the 3,750 crowd home with sweet memories of the GAA’s 125th anniversary. However, Newtownshandrum had no intention of playing a subservient role to the Tipp champions whom they trailed by six points after 20 minutes.

It was a character-testing time for the Cork men and their response was as emphatic as it was effective. They pared five points off the deficit before half-time to trail by 1-10 to 0-12, setting the scene for what turned into a splendid second half. The sides were level on six occasions in that period but, in the end, the vital break went Newtownshandrum’s way. The win sets them up for a semi-final clash with Adare on Sunday week and, on the evidence of yesterday’s gritty effort, they are focusing firmly on the route which brought them one All-Ireland and two Munster titles in the first half of the decade.

‘Man of the match’ Ben O’Connor, said afterwards that in the immediate aftermath of regaining the Cork title, they hadn’t even thought of the Munster campaign, but things changed pretty quickly. “We got back training the Friday night after the final and made up our minds to go for it. You could see the interest we have in it today. We were six points down at one stage and we could have said: ‘Ah we have enough’, but we didn’t. We dug in and we got it back to a point just before half-time.” Newtownshandrum had the wind behind them in the second half, but it died after a heavy shower passed away, leaving the already difficult pitch conditions even more treacherous. In fairness, both sides improvised well to serve up a really enjoyable contest.

As ever, Newtownshandrum used their running game to good effect, just as they had done in the 10 minutes before half-time during which Cathal Naughton’s pace, Ryan Clifford’s industry and the leadership of Ben and Jerry O’Connor proved crucial. Newtownshandrum played the wings very cleverly, thus ensuring that Thurles’ All Star full-back, Padraic Maher hurled hardly any ball in the first half. He switched out to centre-back in the second half where he was involved in much more of the action, while Denis Maher’s opportunism from a range of distances and angles were also central to Thurles’ defiant stand.

They introduced ‘Redser’ O’Grady in the 47th minute and he promptly got involved in a clash with Pat Mulcahy, which earned both a yellow card. O’Grady did well from there on but with Newtownshandrum hooking, blocking and covering so expertly, Thurles found fewer openings than had been the case in the first half. Still, they led by a point on three occasions in the second half before Newtownshandrum moved ahead from a long-range free by Ben O’Connor in the 58th minute. Michael Gleeson levelled it up a minute later before Jerry O’Connor struck for the winner deep in stoppage time.

Newtownshandrum’s vast experience was crucial in the end, not least the manner in which the forwards funnelled back to help their defence before taking the ball forward. “It’s very easy for a forward to be lazy if the ball is cleared. A lot of people mightn’t think too much of it, but here in this squad we think an awful lot about it, the hooking and the blocking. Our backs would be delighted to see it and we’re delighted with the way our backs give us the ball so it works for us all. If they’re happy with us and we’re happy with them things aren’t too bad,” said Ben O’Connor. Everything is going extremely well for the Cork champions. There’s a great sense of togetherness in the way they go about their business, while they also have the class acts that can make the difference in tight situations.

Thurles were impressive too, but will be wondering why they weren’t able to play Corbett more into the action yesterday. The heavy conditions were all against him, but credit must also go to the well-organised Newtownshandrum defence which blocked his channels most effectively. In the end, the Cork boys did just enough to spoil the occasion for Thurles, while also flashing out a clear warning that their ambitions are finely tuned towards Munster honours.

Scorers — Newtownshandrum: B O’Connor 0-8 (0-4f, 0-1 ’65’,0- 1 sl), C Naughton, J O’Connor 0-3 each, R Clifford 0-2, PJ Copse, J Coughlan, M Bowles 0-1 each.
Thurles: P Bourke 1-5 (0-2f, 0-1 sl), D Maher 0-6, S Ryan 0-2, M Gleeson, J Enright 0-1 each.

Newtownshandrum — W Biggane; J O’Mahony, B Mulcahy, D Gleeson; S O’Riordan, P Mulcahy, P Noonan; PJ Copse, C Naughton; R Clifford, J O’Connor, M Bowles; J Coughlan, J O’Connor, B O’Connor. Subs: JP King for O’Connor (50), J Herlihy for Bowles (58).

Thurles — P McCormack; B O’Dwyer, P Maher, K O’Gorman; S Lillis, L Cahill, M Cahill; A Kennedy, M Gleeson; D Maher, P Bourke, S Ryan; L Corbett, R Ruth, J Enright. Subs: D Kennedy for Ruth (42), G O’Grady for Ryan (47)

Ref — G Hoey (Clare)


Munster Club SHC: Narrow win for Newtown

Nov 01, 2009

Newtownshandrum edged Thurles Sarsfields by a solitary point at Semple Stadium on Sunday to book their place in the AIB Munster Club SHC semi-final, the Cork champions advancing on a score of 0-19 to 1-15. The Tipp champs took an early four-point lead as Pa Bourke threw over the opening point before ramming a ground effort to the back of the Newtown net. Ryan Clifford, Michael Bowles, Jerry O’Connor and the lightning-fast Cathal Naughton restored parity but the Tipp men then hit another scoring spree with Bourke, Denis Maher, Johnny Enright and Shane Ryan all getting in on the act. However, the ever-prolific Ben O’Connor then got involved in the scoring and also set up Naughton for a fine effort, the Cork side back just a point adrift at the break with Sarsfields 1-10 to 0-12 ahead.

Ben O’Connor and both Maher and Bourke battled for scores early in the second half, Ben levelling matters before Jerry O’Connor and Naughton combined to put Newtown 0-15 to 1-11 in front. The lead ebbed again as Maher and Bourke hit scores. A Ben O’Connor double put the Cork men back in charge, but the very effective Maher levelled it again. One more score from Ben and one from Thurles midfielder Michael Gleeson had the game still tied going into the final minute but Jerry O’Connor struck one more point and the Newtown men held on for a number of tense additional minutes. Next up for Newtown will be Limerick winners Adare at a Cork venue later this month.