Watson earns champions another chance
All-Ireland Club SHC Semi-final St Thomas 1-25 Loughgiel 3-19 (AET)Loughgiel hero Liam Watson said he treated the 20-metre free which salvaged a draw with the last puck of a gripping game the same as any free.
Watson’s strike was a fitting conclusion to a gripping encounter which ebbed and flowed on a sticky pitch and the two sides were given a standing ovation at the end of an exhausting contest.
This All-Ireland club hurling semi-final will go to a replay after Watson blasted his dramatic free past eight St Thomas’ players on the line after a defender was penalised for lying on the ball in a goalmouth scramble.
“I just concentrated on hitting it well. I don’t know how many of them were on the line but I just kept saying to myself hit it well and it will go in.Thankfully it did,” he said.
Moments before the equaliser Watson saw another free glance off a defender and fly over the bar as the reigning champions came from four points down.
St Thomas’ manager John Burke, who had six sons in action, said while there was disappointment at letting a four -point lead slip, he believes they can learn from the day.
“It was a big learning day for us, it was our first ever game outside Galway and it was a good experience for a young side. We were looking forward to the challenge and it is great to have another day out of it. It was heart-stopping stuff.”
But while Loughgiel got out of jail in extra-time, it was St Thomas who provided the late act in normal time when the superb Conor Cooney displayed nerves of steel to send a superb shot over the bar from out on the right wing in the first minute of stoppage time.
It was no more than the Galway champions deserved after a rip-roaring contest.
Cooney was the game’s outstanding figure and shot 0-12, including seven from play and a couple from sidelines on either side.
Last September he had the ignominy of being replaced after coming on as a sub in the drawn All-Ireland final, but on this display he looks on form.
A goal from Shay Casey saw the Antrim champions lead by 1-7 to 0-8 at the interval.
St Thomas’ pulled away in the third quarter and opened up a three points lead at one stage but a point from Joey Scullion and then a goal from Benny McCarry put the holders back in front.
Cooney rescued St Thomas’ and then a goal from sub Gerald Murray pushed them 1-21 to 2-15 in front at the interval in extra-time. The sides exchanged points four times in extra-time before Loughgiel came with their late rally.