GOAL’ Billy McCarthy scores Thurles Sarsfields goal in the second half. Photos: Bridget Delaney

Slick Sars’ prove too good for Éire Óg

GAA: FBD Insurance County Senior Hurling Championship Preliminary Quarter Final

Thurles Sarsfields 1-27

Nenagh Éire Óg 1-23

Report: James Hayden in Borrisoleigh

An impressive Thurles Sarsfields proved too slick for Nenagh Éire Óg in what proved an absorbing Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship preliminary quarter-final on Saturday evening.

Having trailed for the entire opening half, Nenagh embarked on an impressive seven-minute spell in the closing quarter, a purple patch which whittled down a six points Thurles Sars' lead to bring them to within a solitary point of the Mid champions with just four minutes remaining.

However, Sars’ superior firepower and the impact of their bench proved the difference as they quickly re-stablished a four-point advantage as injury time approached, an advantage that ensured a hard-earned yet deserved victory.

Nenagh will rue a number of missed scoring opportunities over the course of the sixty-odd minutes but one of the main talking points coming out of the clash was their tactical decision to leave inter-county defender Ronan Maher unmarked throughout. Maher thoroughly dominated in defence and the incisiveness and accuracy of his deliveries proved hugely influential in the eventual outcome.

Thurles Sars’ also registered no less than ten different scorers in an impressive opening half, with all but one of their 0-14 tally coming from play while Nenagh Éire Óg hit six of their 0-9 first half total from play.

The North champions charges were forced to plan without the suspended Tommy Heffernan, Ben West and Cian O’Farrell after the trio picked up straight red cards in their final group game against Mullinahone. However, they welcomed back their marquee forward Jake Morris following a lengthy spell on the sideline through injury, as well as Michael Heffernan at midfield.

Thurles Sarsfields boasted a fully fit side with Paul Maher drafted in to defence do a man-marking job on Jake Morris while Paddy Creedon was dropped to the bench in favour of the in-form Seanie Butler.

With the benefit of just a slight breeze in the sweltering September conditions, the Mid champions were quickly out of the blocks and two points from Billy McCarthy and Seanie Butler signalled their early intentions. Barry Heffernan and Jake Morris brought Nenagh Éire Óg back on terms but three points on the bounce from Butler, James Armstrong and Ronan Maher opened up a three-point gap for the Padraig Maher managed Sars’ side.

Aidan McCormack clipped over an eleventh minute free to extend Sars’ advantage before full-forward Seanie Butler knifed over his third of four first-half points to fire Thurles into a five-point lead.

Nenagh hit back though and reduced the deficit to two by the 19th minute with Josh Keller and Michael Heffernan (65’ and another from play), 0-9 to 0-7.

Thurles were far slicker in their score-taking though and their impressive accuracy from long-range served to extend their advantage once more with corner-back Stephen Maher and Seanie Butler adding to their side’s tally.

Jake Morris and Michael Heffernan combined well for Éire Óg’s eighth point on 22 minutes but another trio of points without reply from Stephen Cahill (2) and Darragh Stakelum fired Thurles Sars’ six clear with three minutes left to the break. Michael Heffernan arrowed over a late free on the cusp of half-time to see his side trail, 0-14 to 0-9 at the break.

Nenagh introduced Cian Crowley for Adam Carey at the interval in a bid to freshen their attack, but they ultimately needed to get more quality ball into Jake Morris in a bid to outsmart the Sarsfields cover defence.

Michael Heffernan and Ronan Maher traded early second-half frees before Darragh Stakelum found his range with a lovely effort. Frees from Jake Morris and Michael Heffernan added to Nenagh’s tally before Heffernan set up Cian Crowley for a 38th minute point, 0-16 to 0-13.

With the tempo of the game noticeably shifted up a few notches Conor Lanigan knifed over from close-range before Billy McCarthy plucked Michael Purcell’s long delivery out of the sky and finished with aplomb to hand Sar’s 1-17 to 0-13 advantage.

Credit to Nenagh they responded well to the obvious setback with two points from Jake Morris (free and another from play) and further efforts from Paddy Murphy and Conor Hennessy.

Thurles kept picking off their points though with a 50th minute Aidan McCormack free ensuring they maintained a 1-20 to 1-17 advantage. Nenagh were coming on strong though and a cracking Sam O’Farrell goal served to rejuvenate his side. Points from Michael Heffernan and Jake Morris cut the deficit to just a solitary point and suddenly it was Thurles who were on the ropes.

Crucially for Nenagh, Cian Crowley’s effort to restore parity tailed agonisingly wide and a 56th minute Aidan McCormack free afforded Sars’ a little breathing space. Sam O’Farrell replied with a sublime effort from a tight angle close to the sideline before Sars’ substitute Eoin Purcell clipped over a brace of points to leave three between the sides.

Nenagh Éire Óg battled hard to bridge the three-point gap but when Billy McCarthy fired over his second point from play and Aidan McCormack (free) added another in the 61st minute it put five between the sides the large crowd in attendance sensed that Éire Óg’s race was run. However, Nenagh managed to reduce to deficit to three deep in injury time but a third Eoin Purcell point in the fourth minute of time ensured a merited four-point victory for Thurles Sarsfields and with it a place in the quarter-finals proper.

Player of the Match: Ronan Maher (Thurles Sarsfields)

Thurles Sarsfields: Patrick McCormack (7), Paul Maher (7), Denis Maher (8), Stephen Maher (0-1, 8); James Amstrong (0-1, 7), Ronan Maher (0-2, 1f, 8), Michael Purcell (0-1, 7); Stephen Cahill (0-2, 7), Cathal Moloney (0-1, 7); Billy McCarthy (1-2, 8), Conor Stakelum (7), Aidan McCormack (0-6, 5f, 7); Darragh Stakelum (0-2, 7), Seanie Butler (0-4, 8), Conor Lanigan (0-1, 7).

Subs: Eoin Purcell (0-3, 7) for Butler (42); Tommy Doyle (6) for Lanigan (48); Cian Stakelum (6) for Moloney (54); David Corbett (NR) for Purcell (58).

Nenagh Éire Óg: Dermot McTiernan (7), Conor Ryan (7), Mark Carey (7), Conor Hennessy (0-1, 7); James Mackey (7), Paddy Murphy (0-1, 7), Adam Healy (0-1, 7); Sean Phelan (6), Sam O’Farrell (1-1, 8); Michael Heffernan (0-9, 5f, 1 65) 8), Barry Heffernan (0-1, 7), Josh Keller (0-1, 8); Philip Hickey (6), Adam Carey (6), Jake Morris (0-6, 2f, 8).

Subs: Cian Crowley (0-1, 7) for A Carey (HT); Anthony Walsh (0-1, 6) for Hickey (41); Mark O’Farrell (6) for Phelan (56).

Referee: Conor Doyle (Silvermines).