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Friday 6 December 2019

Peter's close to big upset

Favorites Thurles dig deep to erase six-point deficit

Billy Dunne strikes near the sideline as Billy McCarthy moves in
Billy Dunne strikes near the sideline as Billy McCarthy moves in
Quinn Saunders of St Peter's is chased by Ronan Teehan
The St Peter's College squad before Thursday's defeat to Thurles CBS

Alan Aherne

The valiant bid of St. Peter's (Wexford) to reach a first All-Ireland Post-Primary Schools Senior 'A' hurling championship final since 1982 came up agonisingly and frustratingly short in the magnificent surrounds of the W.I.T. sports campus in Carriganore on Thursday when Dr. Harty Cup champions and strong favourites, Thurles C.B.S., recovered from a six-point deficit to book a date in the decider with St. Kieran's of Kilkenny.

Thurles CBS 0-18 St Peter's 1-12

The latest in a long line of hard luck stories for under-age teams from the county manifested itself in a compelling contest played on a carpet-like surface on the first really sunny day of the year. In short, it was a perfect afternoon for hurling, and while St. Peter's were shattered at the finish, they had given Thurles one hell of a fright.

That will come as no consolation and the players don't deserve to be patronised, but when the dust settles this campaign will be remembered for the manner in which the Summerhill school rubbed shoulders with the best and weren't out of their depth. There appears to be plenty of raw material for Larry Coleman and his fellow county Minor mentors to assemble a strong squad, and hopefully the development of many of these players will continue in purple and gold jerseys over the summer.

Peter's showed just one change from the quarter-final win over St. Brigid's (Loughrea) five days earlier, with Quinn Saunders coming in for Glen Malone in the half-back line and switching wings with Conor Firman who was given the task of policing Thurles dangerman Billy McCarthy.

And the underdogs couldn't have wished for a better start. First of all Saunders settled any nerves he may have endured with a quick delivery to clubmate Jack Pettit which yielded the opening point after a mere 14 seconds, and there was better to come before the two-minute mark was reached.

The determination of the Leinster runners-up was typified when Conor Hearne blocked an opponent in the left corner and, with team captain Joe O'Connor assisting, the ball was eventually worked to full-forward Rory O'Connor who rattled the net to cap a dream opening.

Although Thurles didn't panic and Billy McCarthy got them off the mark with a point, they followed up with three wides before Billy Dunne punished an overcarrying offence with the first of his four converted frees in the seventh minute.

Cathal Moloney and Rory O'Connor, from a Quinn Saunders pass, swapped points before two Glynn-Barntown players combined to make it 1-4 to 0-2 as David Clarke's clearance found Matthew Joyce and he did the rest. St. Peter's were more than holding their own in a high-tempo, skilful contest, recovering very well after conceding the next three points to Michael Connors, Robbie Long and Kevin Duggan respectively.

They got back on track with a brilliant individual effort from midfielder Rowan White in the 14th minute when he latched on to an Aaron Maddock handpass and dinked the ball off his hurl to avoid a challenger before gathering it again and splitting the posts. It was a rousing score and it was no surprise that it was followed by another brace of points from Jake Firman and Matthew Joyce, with the latter back to his most menacing best after a quiet quarter-final outing.

Thurles were trailing by 1-7 to 0-5 and moved wing-forward Billy McCarthy to midfield in a bid to gain a foothold which had eluded them from the off. With Ronan Teehan brought outfield to the right wing, it left Peter's full-back Darren Byrne on his own minding the house.

The transformation in the game was remarkable as Thurles prospered immediately from the move, and the last ten minutes of the half saw them register seven of the nine points added to bring the contest back to level terms (0-12 to 1-9).

Firstly Billy Dunne widened the gap to six (1-8 to 0-5) from a free after a foul on Quinn Saunders, but Thurles gradually moved into gear with replies from Michael Connors and Galmoy's Kevin Duggan, the only non-Tipperary man in their line-up.

A Conor Firman delivery led to Matthew Joyce's third point in the 24th minute, only for the Munster champions to pick off five on the bounce before the half-time whistle. Indeed, they would have led only for Michael Connors being clearly in the square before scooping Billy McCarthy's cross to the net, with his effort correctly disallowed.

Ronan Teehan, Niall Heffernan (free) and Kevin Duggan picked away at the Peter's lead, with Billy Dunne firing the leaders' third wide of the half before they conceded two sloppy scores before the break. Both were from quickly-taken Heffernan frees into space which caught defenders napping, with Robbie Long and Ronan Teehan applying the finishing touches.

The second-half was a much cagier affair with less scores and defenders generally on top, and Peter's paid a heavy price for their inaccuracy as eight wides were posted for an overall tally of eleven. With Thurles facing the breeze they utilised midfielder Ronan Heffernan in a very deep role assisting his backs, but the Wexford lads never sparkled to the same extent as they had done up front before the interval and only added a miserly three points.

Just one of those came from play, and that was after a barren period lasting 14 minutes. And the most frustrating aspect was that the game was still there for them even with that low scoring rate as Thurles struggled too and only shot their final insurance point in added time.

The key moment arrived with eight and a half minutes left when the score stood at 0-16 to 1-11 in favour of the Tipperary lads. Matthew Joyce chased down a short puck-out to Ronan Heffernan on the right flank and made a block before firing a head-high cross to Rory O'Connor. While he didn't get the best of connections with a defender on his tail, the shot was still heading for the bottom left corner of the net but William Tierney got down low to make a magnificent save.

A goal at that stage may well have given Peter's the impetus for a wonderful victory, but alas it wasn't to be. Conor Hearne and Billy Dunne (free) followed up with wides as the frustration mounted, with Billy McCarthy picking off a precious Thurles point from the left wing with four minutes to go (0-17 to 1-11).

Hearne hit back immediately with that sole second-half Peter's point from play, but they were unable to fashion another chance as a composed Thurles closed out the game. A classy over the shoulder point from Robbie Long nearly one minute into added time finished the scoring, with Oisín Foley doing very well just before the end to keep out a low Billy McCarthy shot which would have given the scoreline an unfair look if it had found the net.

Thurles had resumed the second-half as if they might pull away as Ronan Teehan and Niall Heffernan (free) notched quick points, but Peter's settled down again after creating a good goal chance in the 35th minute. Jake Firman's delivery was caught by Matthew Joyce who handpassed to captain Joe O'Connor, and he was hauled down heading for the posts and Billy Dunne converted the free (0-14 to 1-10).

The scoring became sporadic after that, with Niall Heffernan (free) restoring the two-point gap for Thurles before Billy Dunne replied in kind six minutes later. A couple of chances were sent wide before a late tackle on influential Thurles substitute Paul Kennedy was punished by Heffernan, and the next incident of note was that near-goal for Rory O'Connor which highlighted how near Peter's were to a seismic shock.

St. Peter's: Oisín Foley (Crossabeg-Ballymurn); David Clarke (Glynn-Barntown), Darren Byrne (Blackwater), Jody Donohoe (Shelmaliers); Quinn Saunders (Our Lady's Island/St. Fintan's), Aaron Maddock (St. Martin's), Conor Firman (St. Martin's); Jake Firman (St. Martin's, 0-1), Rowan White (Glynn-Barntown, 0-1); Jack Pettit (Our Lady's Island/St. Fintan's, 0-1), Conor Hearne (Shelmaliers, 0-1), Billy Dunne (Oulart-The Ballagh, 0-4 frees); Matthew Joyce (Glynn-Barntown, 0-3), Rory O'Connor (St. Martin's, 1-1), Joe O'Connor (St. Martin's, capt.). Sub. - Ciarán Murphy (Buffers Alley) for Saunders, inj. (59).

Thurles C.B.S.: William Tierney; Jack Derby, Enda Heffernan, Dillon Quirke; Christopher McCullagh, Jack Skehan, Tom Hayes; Ronan Heffernan, Cathal Moloney (0-1); Billy McCarthy (0-2), Kevin Duggan (0-3), Niall Heffernan (0-4 frees); Michael Connors (0-2), Robbie Long (0-3), Ronan Teehan (0-3). Subs. - Paul Kennedy for Moloney (46), Rory Purcell for Connors (51), Jack Butler for Teehan (57), Brendan Kelly for Long (60 + 2).

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork).

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