Stephen Donnelly and Thomastown eyeing final frontier as they chase All-Ireland glory

Leinster standard-bearers face Cork’s Castlelyons at Croke Park having finally claimed the Kilkenny title after frustrating defeats in recent years

Stephen Donnelly’s only previous playing appearance in Croke Park was during the 2012 All-Ireland SHC final between Kilkenny and Galway – at half-time.

Donnelly was one of the lucky kids selected to play in an exhibition game during the interval of the senior decider 12 years ago. But this Saturday he will return to GAA headquarters as captain of a Thomastown side appearing in their first ever All-Ireland club intermediate hurling final.

“It’s my first time properly playing there,” says the 23-year-old forward. “In 2012 that was at half-time across the pitch so I wouldn’t really count that as playing properly.

“It’s every young lad’s dream growing up, to play for your club in Croke Park and try to win club All-Irelands. We’re privileged to have the opportunity to do that now.


“Not many people get a chance but we’re lucky enough to be there so we’re looking forward to it.”

Standing in Thomastown’s way in the AIB All-Ireland club IHC final (7pm) on Saturday will be Cork and Munster champions Castlelyons.

“We’ve heard a lot of stories about them,” says Donnelly. “Once we got out of Kilkenny we had one eye on them because we kind of had a feeling they could go all the way.

“I haven’t personally looked at them too much but the management and the coaching boys have the research done so we’ve heard a bit about them.”

Thomastown’s 1-29 to 0-17 victory over Mooncoin in the Kilkenny IHC final last October brought an end to a crushing few years for the club following defeats in three finals over four years – 2019, 2020, 2022. They also lost a semi-final in 2021. The defeat in 2020 to Lisdowney was after penalties and the 2022 loss to Danesfort was after extra-time.

“The last time we had won an intermediate title was back in 1983,” adds Donnelly, who scored 1-8 in the county final victory. “We’d come close on so many occasions over the last five years, so to finally get over the line was great.

“Of course it crosses your mind, ‘Jeez, when am I going to get over the line?’ But you just have to keep going back and keep trying. You just have to keep trying and eventually it’ll happen.

“After the county final celebrations I think we got a week off but then we went back to business straight away.

“Our first objective was getting to a Leinster final and we did that, then we thought we have a good chance at this so we knuckled down and said we’d drive on and thankfully we did that and we are here now.”

Just one hurdle remains.

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Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times