Heavenly day for Burke’s Saints

St Thomas 3-11 Loughrea 2-11
Manager John Burke played senior hurling for St Thomas’s for close on two decades and never even got to a Galway final but in one swoop yesterday six county medals landed in his household.

Their success in their first senior final appearance is a classic example of what makes the club so special in the GAA and victories by clubs such as St Thomas’ is the sort of stuff which fuels the dreams of so many others when they start out again next year.

Burke’s six sons featured yesterday — five started and 17-year-old Eanna was introduced — as they lifted their first ever Galway senior title.

Hurling has been part of the fabric in St Thomas’s south Galway base since the foundation of the GAA but while Peterswell lifted seven county titles by 1907, the only real success seen in the area since then has been by their neighbours.

By the 1960s Peterswell and Kilchreest had to join forces to keep the game going but that humble beginning in 1968 reached its glory point in difficult conditions at Pearse Stadium yesterday when they crowned their first appearance in the final with a deserved and impressive success.

It has been some year for St Thomas’s. Their most famous son Anthony Cunningham took charge of Galway this year and led them to Leinster glory and an All-Ireland final appearance, while his former colleague with club and county underage teams John Burke steered the locals to unimagined heights.

The fact he had six sons involved, led by All Star David, makes it even more special but he was quick to spread the credit to all those who harvested the youngsters over the years.

“We have been pushing these lads since U12 in 2002. We said to them to stick together and they might go places. It is a great day for the club and brilliant for the parish. We are only a small club in between Gort and Loughrea and it is great to finally emerge now and win it,” said Burke.

The club’s first ever All Star David was superb yesterday but it was a former county midfielder, Richie Murray, who pointed them in direction of glory with a hat-trick of goals.

Murray, who captained Galway to the All-Ireland minor title in 2000 before playing at midfield the following year when they lost the 2001 All-Ireland senior final to Tipperary, struck for his first after just a minute.

It was a huge score, rounding Damien McClearn before drilling it low, and any notions of stage-fright disappeared.

Loughrea, who have now lost five finals in ten years, hit back and full-forward Johnny Maher, who only got married on Friday, blasted a 20m free to the net after 13 minutes and they were level before Bernard Burke eased St Thomas’ into a lead they never lost nine minutes from the interval.

St Thomas’ got the breaks, too, none more so than Murry’s effort for a point from distance which flew off goalkeeper Nigel Murray’s hand for a goal which left it 2-6 to 1-4 at the interval.

St Thomas’, now playing against the wind, crucially matched Loughrea’s two opening points after the restart before Anthony Kelly set up Murray for his hat-trick after 39 minutes for them to lead by double scores at 3-9 to 1-6.

Then three Neil Keary points and another goal from a penalty by Maher suddenly left just a goal between them in the dying moments.

The last team to lift the Galway title for the first time was Portumna in 2003, who won five in seven successive final appearances and claimed three All-Ireland titles. St Thomas’ youthful side could also be around for a while.

Scorers for St Thomas’s: Richie Murray 3-0, C Cooney 0-4 (2fs), B Burke 0-3, David Burke 0-2, K Burke 0-1, J Regan 0-1.

Scorers for Loughrea: J Maher 2-2 (1-0f, 1-0pen, 0-1f), N Keary 0-6 (4f), G Keary 0-2, J O’Loughlin 0-1.

ST THOMAS’S: P Skehill; S Skehill Robert Murray, C Burke; E Tannion, Darragh Burke, S Burke; K Burke, David Burke; B Burke, C Cooney, J Regan; G Murray, Richie Murray, A Kelly.

Subs: S Cooney for G Murray (35), E Burke for Kelly (51).

LOUGHREA: N Murray; E Mahony, D McClearn, B Mahony; J Coen, Paul Hoban, S Sweeney; G Keary, E Mahony; J O’Loughlin, V Maher, Patrick Hoban; N Keary, J Maher, K Colleran.

Subs: J Ryan for Patrick Hoban (53), T Regan for Colleran (45), J Dooley for Sweeney (50), N Shaughnessy for E Mahony (57).

Referee: E O’Shaughnessy.

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