Castlegar were the pioneers in 1980 but then came Sarsfields and Athenry in the ‘90s, Portumna and Clarinbridge followed in the ’00s, with Sars, Athenry and Portumna going on to win multiple titles.
Now we have St Thomas’s, the rural amalgamation of Kilchreest, Castledaly and Peterswell, and on the evidence of what we’ve seen from them in dethroning reigning champions Loughgiel Shamrocks in the semi-final as well as this, a hard-earned first All-Ireland title against doughty Offaly and Leinster champions Kilcormac-Killoughey, perhaps it’s the beginning of yet another Galway dynasty.
As was the case with the Connollys and Castlegar, the Cooneys of Sarsfields, the Cannings in Portumna, St Thomas’ are backboned by one family. In this case it’s the Burke brothers. Cathal, Darragh, Sean, David, Kenneth and all-purpose super sub Eanna, the baby of the clan, more than played their parts in this win yesterday.
Kilcormac-Killoughey too are a breakthrough side and having won their first Offaly county title in 2012, garnished with the Leinster crown, this was also their first appearance in an All-Ireland club final. Unfortunately they were handicapped by the injury-enforced absence of star forward Daniel Currams and further hampered by the controversial sendings-off of midfielders Killian Leonard in the 51st minute and Damien Kilmartin in the 59th. Ultimately all of that misfortune proved too much to overcome.
It was a terrible day in Croke Park, cold and wet, ice-rink conditions, which meant this was never going to be a magical hurling spectacle. It was close though, two very committed sides, well matched, and though fortunes swayed, never at any time was there more than the final difference of two points between them.
Three times they were level in the opening 10 minutes, 0-3 apiece at that stage, defences already on top. Full-back and team captain Robert Murray was marshalling the troops well for St Thomas’, young centre-back Darragh Burke also impressing, while the Healion twins Ger and Peter commanded the middle for Kilcormac-Killoughey.
The first big breakthrough came in the 17th minute when Daniel Curram’s replacement, Trevor Fletcher, booted a fine shot to Patrick Skehill’s net, putting the Offaly side 1-3 to 0-4 ahead. They held the lead for seven minutes until veteran full-forward Richie Murray pounced on a loose ball after Conor Cooney’s 20m free had been saved by Ger Healion to put St Thomas’s back in the driving seat, 1-7 to 1-5.
They maintained that lead to the break, each side adding two points to leave it finely balanced, 1-9 to 1-7.
With conditions now deteriorating, so did the fare on the field but it was St Thomas’ faring worst. Four points on the trot for Kilcormac-Killoughey saw them turn that two-point deficit to a two-point lead, the Galway champions unable to buy a break or a refereeing decision. They were floundering and needed someone to step forward.
Cue Richie Murray.
He’s won in Croke Park before, has Richie, two All-Ireland minor titles, captain of the team in 2000. Now, in his club’s hour of greatest need, that experience bore fruit. Richie’s first-half goal was important, his two points in two minutes as the game entered the final quarter turned the tide for St Thomas’.
Richie wasn’t on his own, mind. County player Conor Cooney stepped up with two huge points, 17-year-old Eanna Burke came on and gave St Thomas’ an immediate boost. And of course there were the two red cards, the refereeing decisions now very definitely going the way of the new champions.
“It’s hard to believe now that we’re after winning the All-Ireland,” said Kenneth Burke, oldest brother of the clan, at 30, afterwards.
“It was such a battle out there. Conditions were bad, a low-scoring game, every score counted. They were harrying and we went two or three points down in the middle of the second half. We probably went behind at the right time in that we had time to come back. The boys got some super scores near the end and the backs were unbelievable in the last 10 minutes, didn’t give them a ball.”
Scorers for St Thomas’: Richie Murray 1-2, C Cooney 0-5 (3fs), J Regan, B Burke, K Burke, A Kelly, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kilcormac-Killoughey: C Slevin 0-8 (7fs, 0-1 s/l), T Fletcher 1-1.
St Thomas’: P Skehill; S Skehill, Robert Murray (c), C Burke; E Tannian, D Burke, S Burke; D Burke, J Regan; B Burke, S Cooney, C Cooney; K Burke, Richie Murray, A Kelly.
Subs for St Thomas’: E Burke for Kelly (41), G Murray for B Burke (59).
Kilcormac-Killoughey: C Slevin; J Grogan, G Healion, A McConville; K Grogan, P Healion, B Leonard; D Kilmartin, K Leonard; C Slevin, C Mahon, P Geraghty; J Gorman, T Fletcher, T Geraghty.
Subs for Kilcormac-Killoughey: M Leonard for Fletcher (55), C Guinan for P Geraghty (57), blood K Grogan (22/25).
Referee: J Sexton (Cork).