Dream final now a reality for St Thomas'
St Thomas’ 0-15 Loughgiel 0-7:On the long and winding road back west from Clones on Saturday, St Thomas’ were left pondering the delicious reality that a trip to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day beckons. The Thomas’ feelgood story has been built on such hard work that the win over Loughgiel Shamrocks was almost emblematic of their rise as a force in the club hurling world.
A performance of manic intensity mirrored the drive and desire that has seen St Thomas’ climb the ladder in Galway and beyond.
An All-Ireland title is within their grasp, but the storied history involving Offaly and Galway teams ensures nothing will be taken for granted.
Thomas’ know that they must replicate the graft that vexed the holders Loughgiel in a frenetic match.
Somehow the Galway club escaped without leaking a goal in the first seven minutes as Loughgiel’s Benny McCarry (twice) and Liam Watson spurned three gilt-edged chances. The two managers agreed on the significance of the misses.
St Thomas’ John Burke, who had six sons involved in the contest admitted.
“We were very lucky early on in that they got three goal chances. We were lucky, one was blocked out and the others went wide. They started the way we started the last day with a blitz, but we were lucky we got away with it.”
Loughgiel’s PJ O’Mullan had a similar verdict.
“Our game plan was to get a good start and we created good goal chances in the first 10 minutes and we didn’t take any of them. Even if we had taken two of them it would have given us a six- or seven-point buffer.”
That wasn’t the case and Thomas’ settled to eventually depart at the interval armed with a 0-6 to 0-5 advantage.
A Watson free restored parity within seconds of the restart, but then Thomas’ delivered when it truly mattered clipping eight points in a row.
Conor Cooney struck four, the bustling Bernard Burke, a cousin of the manager, nailed three splendid efforts from play, and Richie Murray also split the uprights.
Watson terminated a 26 -minute search for a Loughgiel score, but St Thomas’ weren’t going to be denied. Afterwards Burke spoke passionately but with clarity about the inspiration Loughgiel’s remarkable rise had given to hurlers throughout the land.
“It is something we all dream about from an early age to try to get your club to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day. To get there with your club-mates is great. We started last year and I said to PJ after the game that in a way they were the cause of their own downfall.
“They drove us on and we saw the way they won it last year and the way they hurled. We said to ourselves that this can be done if we focus and play the way we can hurl. We felt we could get there.”
A mixture of character, class and conviction is why St Thomas’ will head for the capital heartened. They embraced the physical challenges that were set for them in Clones
“We were primed for a battle and we knew we had to be after the last day. It was a hard, physical game. There wasn’t one mean stroke in it. They are a super hurling team. I saw them last year and Loughgiel are an unbelievable hurling team. . . I am not just saying that because we won this game. I said to our lads that if we can play hurling like them, to move the ball around the field quickly, then we can go places.”
Now Croke Park beckons.