That 14 of the starting 15 for Thurles Sarsfields in last weekend’s senior hurling final have represented Tipperary teams in recent years, clearly indicates the challenge that faces Cratloe in Sunday’s Munster senior semi-final at Cusack Park.
Munster champions in 2012, before being shocked in the All-Ireland semi-final by Kilcormac-Killoughey from Offaly, Thurles were knocked out of the Tipperary race early last season by Nenagh.
Their victory last Sunday marked their fifth Tipperary senior title since 2005, after a gap of 31 years, and their 33rd in all. Amongst those who have featured in their last five wins are goalie Paddy McCormack, Lar Corbett and team captain, Pa Bourke.
Five members of the Tipperary panel that contested the 2014 All-Ireland senior final are from Thurles and will play on Sunday. Padraic, Ronan and Denis Maher, Michael Cahill and Lar Corbett are key players and Cratloe are sure to have their hands full when they come up against them, while Billy McCarthy and Conor Lanigan were members of the Tipperary minor team this season.
They won’t name their starting line-up until later this week but it is likely they will have an unchanged starting line up from last weekend.
Cratloe are awaiting a fitness report on corner-back David Ryan, who picked up an ankle injury in the closing minutes of their first round win over Ballygunner. Ryan, whose father Con hails from Thurles, excelled that day and will be a huge loss if unable to play.
Martin ‘Oige’ Murphy is considered a major doubt. He missed the first round game and hasn’t played since the Clare football final due to the recurrence of a hamstring injury.
Following his impressive performance against Ballygunner, David Collins is expected to hold his place in the starting 15, along with his brothers Seán and Podge.
It will be interesting to see how the Thurles defence cope with the roving style of Podge Collins and how they will do against the in-form Conor McGrath, who proved quite a handful for Ballygunner, finishing with 2-4 to his credit.
The experience gained from playing in a couple of Munster finals is sure to be a big help to the Tipperary representatives and will see them carry the favourites’ tag into this contest.
This is certainly going to be Cratloe’s toughest test to date this season. That said, however, the Collins brothers, Cathal McInerney, Conor Ryan, Liam Markham, Michael Hawes and Conor McGrath are well capable of matching the best and it will take a huge effort on Thurles’ part to put a halt to the Clare champions’ winning run.
Cratloe manager Joe McGrath was in Semple Stadium on Sunday last to watch Thurles score a comfortable victory over the defending champions, Loughmore-Castleiney.
“They could have won by a lot more. They played really well, while Loughmore did not play as well as they can. Thurles got off to a great start and that proved decisive,” he said.
According to McGrath “this is a new challenge for Cratloe. When you get to the Munster semi-final, the challenge goes up and our boys are looking forward to that challenge,” he added.
“Between matches, we do very little, just have a few pucks on Wednesday nights. The lads are, certainly, match fit and there is no issue with regard to burnout. The footballers played last Sunday and, thankfully, avoided injury. We are really looking forward to the challenge this week. It’s a new level and Thurles are a good team and we will see what will happen. If we improve from the game in Waterford, we will be in with a shout.”
The Cratloe boss said his charges are keen to keep the good run going. “That’s the carrot at the moment. One more victory and there’s a place in the Munster final and that’s a huge carrot for any team,” he concluded.