The fifth and final round of group games in the Senior A and B hurling championships always provide drama aplenty, and this year was no different after a gripping weekend’s action.
Senior A Group 2 always looked likely to provide the most thrills, with all six sides harbouring hopes of qualification. And so it turned out with Sarsfields and Loughrea earning a direct passage through to the quarter-finals, with Gort and Cappataggle claiming places in the preliminary quarter-finals.
Gort and Sarsfields had already ensured their places in the knockpout stage prior to the weekend's action. Their task last Sunday to ensure they avoided the preliminary quarter-final which Sarsfields did, courtesy of their 1-13 to 0-16 draw with Cappataggle.
Gort, however, came up just short, losing out by a point, 2-14 to 1-16, against Loughrea, for whom Jamie Ryan landed a long-range 64th minute free to snatch victory from Ollie Fahy’s side.
Gort led 1-13 to 1-6 after a wind-assisted opening half, but seven points without reply by Loughrea after the resumption, levelled the tie. Then Martin McManus struck for his side’s second goal, and Ryan’s late free saw Mike Ryan’s side progress straight through to the quarter-final.
Sarsfields will join them as group winners after a hard-fought draw with arch rivals Cappataggle.
Donal Mannion was the hero of the hour for Cappataggle with his injury-time leveller pushing his side on to five points in the group, one ahead of Mullagh, who accounted for Portumna by 1-21 to 1-20.
In Group 1, the meeting of Tommie Larkins and Craughwell was the group's standout tie with the winner progressing at the others' expense.
Goals by Conor Gardiner and Ronan Murphy saw Tommie Larkins earn their first win of the campaign, securing their place in the preliminary quarter-final as Craughwell bow out.
St Thomas continued their winning ways with a comprehensive 1-19 to 0-13 victory over Castlegar, for whom captain Enda Concannon was sent off on a straight card and will now miss his side’s preliminary quarter-final tie in the coming weeks.
Defending county champions Liam Mellows secured the second automatic place in the quarter-finals after overcoming a mighty scare against a gallant Kilnadeema/Leitrim side, who led by a point at half-time, but just could not last the pace in the second half, Mellows running out 2-18 to 1-16 winners in the end.
Padraig Pearses and Tynagh/Abbey-Duniry met in the game of the weekend in the Senior B championship with Tynagh/Abbey-Duniry winning out in the end by 0-15 to 0-11 to secure top spot in the group, and with that a place in the preliminary quarter-final, as well as promotion to Senior A next year.
Athenry and Abbeyknockmoy also enjoyed victories in Group 2 over Moycullen and Ardrahan respectively.
Turloughmore had already secured top spot in the other group prior to the weekend's action where they accounted for Ahascragh/Fohenagh.
Clarinbridge beat Beagh, condemning them to a relegation playoff with Moycullen, while Killimordaly pipped Ballinderreen to a place in this weekend’s playoff ties with a 1-17 to 1-12 victory on Friday night.
So after all that, the qualification picture looks like this: Sarsfields, Loughrea, St Thomas’ and Liam Mellows have qualified directly through to the quarter-finals.
In the preliminary quarter-finals are Gort, Cappataggle, Tommie Larkins, Castlegar, Turloughmore and Tynagh/Abbey-Duniry, as well as the winners of this weekend’s playoff games between Clarinbridge and Padraig Pearses, and Killimordaly v Athenry.