The Galwegians led six points to five at the break and when Loughgiel’s Liam Watson pointed another free just three minutes into the second half it looked like game on.
It wasn’t — in fact it was game over with the Galway men going on a run of eight unanswered points to book their passage to the All-Ireland final on St Patrick’s Day.
Last week it was county star Watson with some late, late heroics for the Antrim men, an extra-time last-minute goal through a crowded goalmouth from a 20m free taking the game to this replay.
There was no such heroics this time around, however as Watson and his six forward teammates were strangled by a suffocating St Thomas’ defence, led superbly by captain Robert Murray.
Loughgiel managed just one point from play during the 60 plus minutes, while up at the other end the scores flowed from an in-form St Thomas’ attack, wing-forward Brendan Burke leading the way as both midfielders and four forwards got on the scoresheet along with substitute wing-back Eanna Burke.
An impressive all-round performance then, though Robert Murray was anxious to deflect praise from the defensive unit. “We talked about not giving away frees but in the end I think that’s nearly all we gave away. We worked well together but our defensive display would have been useless without the forward unit working together and they did. They got some fantastic scores. This is a great bunch of lads who put in so much effort. We had so many scores from play, they lashed them over from all angles which was great scoring in these conditions.”
Particularly eye-catching was the all-action display of Burke. Murray agreed: “Bernard played like a man possessed, it was a fantastic display. He was everywhere, blocking and hooking, throwing that light little body around the place — not! He is tough as nails, and when he’s on form he’s unstoppable. He played like his life depended on it. Last week it was Conor Cooney, this week it’s Brendan, but we have so many we can count on. If one lad is having a bad day someone else will pick up the slack.”
The dream continues then? “It does. We set down a marker for ourselves after winning the county title that we’d give it a lash in the All-Ireland series. We were up against the reigning champions, we felt we’d give them a good game if we played to our potential, that if our heads were right we could even beat them. Thank God we did but we have a real stern test now again against Kilcormac-Killoughey in the final.”
Equally happy was team manager John Burke, father of all those brothers (corner-backs Cathal and Sean, centre-back Darragh, midfielder and county star David, who dominated this area with county colleague James Regan, corner-forward Kenneth and supersub, youngster Eanna). It wasn’t by accident that St Thomas’ won so well on Saturday — planning, that’s what it was says Burke senior, learning from experience.
“We made a few tweaks and changes. The drawn game was a big learning process for us, we had a lot to learn and playing the All-Ireland champions was a great experience. We learned from that, sat down and talked about what we needed to do in the replay. It was going to be a tough, hard game. The boys got their heads right, knew what they had to do, knew now what they were up against — Loughgiel are a super hurling team. Once we got our forwards moving we were able to take it.”
Might have been a different story of course if Loughgiel had taken their few early goal opportunities. “We were lucky, they got probably three good goal chances in the first five or six minutes and if they had scored those we’d have been left chasing the game. We never panicked, we kept our composure and in the second half I think anything we hit went over the bar.”
And Kilcormac? “I haven’t seen Kilcormac, we didn’t even think about them. We’re taking one game at a time, that’s been the way since we started. We’re in the final now, where we wanted to be.”
Scorers for St Thomas: C Cooney 0-6 (4f, 1x65); B Burke 0-4; D Burke, J Regan, K Burke, E Burke, R Murray, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Loughgiel: L Watson 0-6 (6f); E McCloskey 0-1.
ST THOMAS: P Skehill; C Burke, S Skehill, S Burke; E Tannian, D Burke, R Murray (c); D Burke, J Regan; C Cooney, S Cooney, B Burke; K Burke, R Murray, A Kelly.
Subs: E Burke (Tannian 25); G Murray (K Burke inj. 45); D Sherry (Kelly 55).
LOUGHGIEL SHAMROCKS: D Quinn; P Gillan, N McGarry, M McFadden; James Campbell (c), M Scullion, Johnny Scullion; B McAuley, T McCloskey; J Scullion, D Laverty, E McCloskey; B McCarry, L Watson, S Casey.
Subs: O McFadden (McAuley 42; blood Johnny Campbell 39/42); S Dobbin (Laverty 50).
Referee: J Owen (Wexford).