Burke's 'special' side get mix right
ST THOMAS’ 1-11 KILCORMAC 1-9
When John Burke sat down with his two selectors to discuss the road ahead for St Thomas' two years ago, they didn't put a ceiling on their ambitions.
They knew what they had and they knew the sky could be their limit. With six sons and a nephew in the side, the St Thomas' manager's knowledge of what could make almost half the team tick was intimate.
So, when he stood outside a jubilant dressing-room beneath the Cusack Stand after their first ever All-Ireland club triumph, he could reflect on the journey travelled and admit that he's not altogether surprised that it has happened.
"Not to boast, but, yes, we did (think it possible). We have a special bunch of lads, they're very close and they're very good hurlers. We said if we could just get the right ingredients together we could do it."
And so they did, maybe not in the manner they might have expected to or maybe how we expected them to, as they had to dig themselves out of a hole in the final quarter when Kilcormac-Killoughey were reduced to 13 men following the controversial dismissals of Killian Leonard for a straight red card and then his midfield partner David Kilmartin for a second yellow near the end.
St Thomas' are the seventh All-Ireland club hurling champions from Galway, following on from Castlegar (1980), Kiltormer (1992), Sarsfields (1993 and '94), Athenry (1997, 2000 and 2001), Portumna (2006, 2008 and 2009) and Clarinbridge (2011), reflecting the wellbeing of club hurling in the county.
Strange how a perceived disadvantage at inter-county level – not having a provincial championship to play in – looks to be a distinct advantage here.
Without arguably their best player, the injured Daniel Currams, Kilcormac-Killoughey were quite heroic in the manner of their resilience and how they hung on against the odds for so long.
At the heart of their defence Ger and Peter Healion were magnificent, with Kevin Grogan and Brian Leonard supplying so many blocks, hooks and covering tackles.
It was typical of what you might have expected from two teams seeking a first ever Tommy Moore Cup, edgy and cautious, which made for plenty of excitement, but little quality. St Thomas' hit 14 wides, which, for a hurling match over 60 minutes, is extremely high.
With two matches the night before and heavy rain throughout, the Croke Park pitch began to take its toll and that probably suited St Thomas' less.
"When the rain came it didn't help us, the pitch was greasy and it was very hard to pick the ball up," said John Burke.
They were also helped by those red cards which perplexed Kilcormac-Killoughey manager Danny Owens afterwards, particularly Leonard's for tapping Darragh Burke's elbow with the flat of his hurl as he went to go by him on 51 minutes.
To Owens it was a "harsh" red card which, he felt, wouldn't be dealt with in the same way at inter-county level.
"I don't know what kind of rules he was working off," said Owens, who also had doubts about Kilmartin's initial yellow after 15 minutes. "If you are here on All-Ireland final days and something like that happens there would not even be a second thought about it. The same rules should apply everywhere," he said.
"It was certainly a yellow card and I have no problem with that, but anyway I am not going to take anything away from St Thomas'. Fair play to them, they are worthy champions."
Still, for a long time the Offaly and Leinster champions were entitled to think that it was their day as St Thomas' struggled to make progress.
They got oxygen from a goal by Currams' replacement Trevor Fletcher after 18 minutes when he kicked home after Rob Murray, St Thomas' captain, had batted down a Conor Mahon delivery into his path.
That put Kilcormac-Killoughey 1-3 to 0-4 ahead, but St Thomas' recovered by the break with Richie Murray netting at the other end after Conor Cooney's powerful 20-metre free was stopped by Ger Healion on his own line for a 1-5 to 1-3 lead on 24 minutes.
Ciaran Slevin's great accuracy from frees and even one sideline kept Kilcormac-Killoughey in touch and by the break they were still just two points down, 1-7 to 1-5.
St Thomas' didn't score for the first 16 minutes of the second half. Slevin knocked over three more frees to push Kilcormac-Killoughey in front and bring his own tally to 0-8 before Fletcher grabbed a point for a two-point lead on 42 minutes.
But it was their last score as St Thomas' introduced 18-year-old Eanna Burke, the youngest of the six brothers, and he cleaned up on breaking ball.
Richie Murray stepped up to the mark with two crucial points to bring St Thomas' level on 48 minutes, the second following a wonderful catch from a Darragh Burke free as the tide began to turn in their favour.
Conor Cooney finished strongly with two long-range efforts of his own to tie up the match. They had claims for a penalty too when Bernard Burke was pulled down with five minutes remaining and generally referee John Sexton seemed to be quite liberal in his approach until that first sending-off.
John Burke admitted afterwards that Leonard's red card was harsh having reacted angrily at the time. "It was right in front of me and I heard the slap, but I knew it wasn't the edge of the hurl and it didn't do any harm," he reflected. "I was annoyed about it, but it was probably a bit harsh really."
He also praised the contribution of coach Dinny Cahill, who he said was their "missing ingredient" this season.
With just two scorers and two scores from play, Owens accepted his team hadn't done enough to lift the cup as an Offaly team lost an All-Ireland club hurling final for the second year in a row.
Scorers – St Thomas': Richie Murray 1-2, C Cooney 0-5 (3f), J Regan, K Burke, B Burke, A Kelly 0-1 each. Kilcormac-Killoughey: C Slevin 0-8 (7f, 1 sl), T Fletcher 1-1.
St Thomas' – P Skehill 7; S Skehill 6, Rob Murray 6, C Burke 7; E Tannion 7, Darragh Burke 8, S Burke 7; J Regan 7, David Burke 7; B Burke 7, S Cooney 6, C Cooney 8; K Burke 7, Richie Murray 9, A Kelly 6. Subs: E Burke 8 for Kelly (41).
Kilcormac-Killoughey – Conor Slevin 7; J Grogan 7, G Healion 9, A McConville 6; K Grogan 7, P Healion 8, B Leonard 7; D Kilmartin 6, K Leonard 7; Ciaran Slevin 8, C Mahon 7, P Geraghty 6; J Gorman 7, T Fletcher 7, T Geraghty 6. Subs: M Leonard for Fletcher (55), C Guinan for P Geraghty (56), B Gorman for T Geraghty.
Ref – J Sexton (Cork).