St Thomas’ claim first ever club hurling title

Kilcormac-Killoughey suffer two red cards in decider

Shane Cooney celebrates as St Thomas’ score a goal against Kilcormac-Killoughey  in the AIB All-Ireland Club  Hurling Final at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Shane Cooney celebrates as St Thomas’ score a goal against Kilcormac-Killoughey in the AIB All-Ireland Club Hurling Final at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Mon, Mar 18, 2013, 01:00

The moment of triumph that comes with winning a first ever AIB All-Ireland club hurling title is always deeply profound. On the final whistle in Croke Park yesterday, players from St Thomas’ dropped to their knees in unison, arms and hurls held aloft in celebration.

At the same time Kilcormac-Killoughey players dropped to their knees, then kept going, until their heads too dropped to the ground, their hurls held across their faces to help mask the disbelief. This is what happens after two clubs, both also on the All-Ireland stage for the first time, either win or lose a closely fought contest that remained undecided until the very death.

What ultimately decided it in St Thomas’ favour were four endgame points without reply, enough to send the Tommy Moore Cup back west to Galway for the 11th time. What ultimately decided it against Kilcormac-Killoughey wasn’t so much the inability to get those final scores as much as two late sending offs, which may not have cost them the victory, but possibly cost them the chance of a draw.

Kilcormac-Killoughey had defied the odds all season to make it this far, repeatedly beating more fancied teams, or rising above unfavourable circumstance. Here, they put themselves in a commanding position at a crucial stage, with Trevor Fletcher – the player called in to replace the injured Dan Currams – putting them two points clear, 1-9 to 1-7, with just over 15 minutes to play. Fletcher afforded himself a little punch of the air in the process, a premature celebration if there ever was one, given Kilcormac-Killoughey would fail to score again.

Instead, their quest for victory was soon undone: two quick-fire points from Richie Murray levelled it up for St Thomas’, and then Kilcormac-Killoughey lost both midfielders. On 51 minutes, Killian Leonard made a harmless enough tap on the elbow of Darragh Burke, although it made a cracking sound, and referee John Sexton showed him a straight red card.

Sexton had been smart enough in dealing with fouls up to then, but this was a harsh blow for the Offaly club. It clearly gave St Thomas’ extra incentive too, as moments later Conor Cooney fired them into the lead with a rifling point, set up by Sean Skehill. Bernard Burke might well have been awarded a penalty in their next attack on goal, although Sexton let that go.

However, moments after that Damien Kilmartin made a very heavy tackle on David Burke, and having already being booked early in the first half, was shown a second yellow card, and so joined Leonard on the sideline.

Now down to 13 men, the sense was Kilcormac-Killoughey needed a goal to revive their momentum. But that perhaps underlined the loss of Currams, who had been coming up trumps on that front all season. They did come close, once, through Conor Mahon, but his shot went wide. Instead St Thomas’ hit back at the other end with an insurance point, brilliantly fetched by substitute Eanna Burke, and sent between the posts by Conor Cooney.

It was all fair reward for their own enthusiasm and persistence on a cold day amid showers of icy rain. It also completes a fairytale season for the club from Kilchreest-Peterswell, with manager John Burke famously boasting six sons on his panel in David, Darragh, Cathal, Kenneth, Sean and Eanna.

Yet they were made work hard for it, as Kilcormac-Killoughey displayed all the tenacity that got them this far. Momentum in the first half swung back and forth, Ciaran Slevin opening the scoring with the first of eight points – all from placed balls. Slevin proved their main threat but they lacked the depth and range of scoring threat of St Thomas’ who got six different men on the scoreboard.

Kilcormac-Killoughey got the first goal, 17 minutes in, when Conor Mahon sent a long ball in towards the St Thomas’ goalmouth, which Robert Murray couldn’t fully handle, and with that Fletcher cleverly kicked the loose ball into the net with his left foot.

That two-point lead however didn’t last long, as St Thomas’ struck back on 25 minutes. Conor Cooney’s 20-metre shot was firstly stopped by Ger Healion, a second shot too by Anthony Kelly, before a third swipe from Richie Murray did find the net, putting the Galway club back in front 1-5 to 1-3. A couple more points were exchanged each before the break, with St Thomas’ still in front by two.

The second half was then neatly split by two periods of dominance: unfortunately for Kilcormac-Killoughey, theirs came first, when four unanswered points of their own, wrapped up by Fletcher’s, put them back in front by two, before St Thomas' hit back with the four decisive scores.