ST THOMAS’ (Galway) 0-18 CUSHENDALL (Antrim) 2-11
In a game like this, the inches all count.
Late in the first-half, for instance, Bernard Burke stretched out to hook a Cushendall player, brilliantly forcing a turnover that led to Burke winning a free moments later which St Thomas converted.
On another occasion, the St Thomas goalkeeper, Gerald Murray, got his hurley up just high enough to divert a poorly struck Neil McManus free onto the woodwork and away to safety.
Out of those two incidents alone, the 2013 champions benefited by 0-2 in a game that went down to virtually the last act.
Perhaps the inches that counted for most were the six or so between the ears of St Thomas defender David Sherry and Cushendall forward Donal McNaughton.
Sherry had the presence of mind, composure and, most importantly, the quality to take on a shot from out on the left wing in the 65th minute that won the game.
Seconds later, McNaughton was through on goal for Cushendall with an easy point on offer and extra-time at his mercy, but he went for goal and winced as his shot was blocked.
It was the wrong decision and in the excitement of the moment McNaughton gambled and lost the house.
McManus failed to convert three early frees too so won’t reflect fondly on the afternoon, despite hitting 1-6 in all.
That’s just the way it is when you finish up on the wrong side of a one-point game; all the little things seem to matter. And, in truth, they do.
What will please St Thomas’ manager Kevin Lally most is that they made plenty of mistakes themselves but still found a way to win it. They had an eight-point lead late in the first-half that was wiped out by the 50th minute but still had the presence of mind to grind out the win.
They will need all of that industry and ingenuity to shrug off Ballyhale Shamrocks on St Patrick’s Day.
TJ Ryan, in charge of Limerick when they lost a classic All-Ireland semi-final to Kilkenny at Croke Park in 2014, is part of Lally’s backroom team now and will fill them in on the potential pitfalls when facing Cats teams.
The south-Galway men can be optimistic too. They will surely get more out of 2017 All-Ireland winning Galway captain David Burke next month too, as well as Conor Cooney, and will naturally enjoy going in as underdogs.
They’ll also benefit from having played a game; this was their first competitive match since the Galway final, almost three months ago. For that reason, it is one of the most difficult games across the entire GAA spectrum to prepare for.
Cushendall got the perfect start when McManus goaled from a fifth-minute penalty after Cathal Burke fouled Sean McAfee.
The scores dried up after that for Cushendall and McAfee’s 26th minute point was their only from play in the entire first-half. They scored 1-5 from play in total compared to 0-13 from St Thomas’ who seemed to get their points that bit easier, particularly in the first-half.
They had six different scorers in that period and reeled off bursts of 0-6 and 0-4 without reply to lead by 0-13 to 1-3 at half-time.
Alex Delargy, wearing number 15, operated as Cushendall’s sweeper and got on more ball in the second-half as St Thomas’ played into the breeze.
Leaving St Thomas’ with an extra man in their defence ultimately backfired as Sherry, wearing number four, was that spare man and picked off the winning score.
But for 20 minutes or so of the second-half it was all Cushendall as the Ulster champions upped the ante considerably, outscoring the westerners by 1-6 to 0-2 in that period. St Thomas’ couldn’t get going at all and lost Kenneth Burke to a hamstring injury.
Score by score, Cushendall climbed back into contention and 1-1 from Fergus McCambridge helped tie the teams at 2-9 to 0-15 in the 50th minute.
They were tied again at 2-11 to 0-17 after 56 minutes and that scoreline remained for the following nine minutes until Bernard Burke passed to a roving Sherry on the left wing and the defender took on the responsibility to win it for St Thomas’.
Scorers for St Thomas’: Darragh Burke (0-6, 4 frees); E Burke (0-3); B Burke, J Regan (0-2 each); D Sherry, S Cooney (1 free), C Cooney, K Burke, D McGlynn (0-1 each).
Scorers for Ruairi Og, Cushendall: N McManus (1-6, 1 pen, 4 frees, 2 ‘65’); F McCambridge (1-1); P McGill (0-2); S McAfee, E Campbell (0-1 each).
ST THOMAS: G Murray; D Sherry, C Burke, C Mahoney; D Cooney, S Cooney, F Burke; J Regan, David Burke; C Cooney, Darragh Burke, B Burke; E Burke, B Farrell (S Skehill 58), K Burke (D McGlynn 33).
Subs: D McGlynn for K Burke 33, S Skehill for Farrell 58.
CUSHENDALL: E Gillan; S Delargy (S Walsh 54), M Burke, D Kearney; E Campbell, A Graffin, P Burke; F McCambridge, N McManus; R McCambridge (C Carson h/t), E McKillop, D McNaughton; P McGill, S McAfee, A Delargy.
Subs: C Carson for R McCambridge h/t, S Walsh for S Delargy 54.
Ref: P O’Dwyer (Carlow).