Watson relief as last-gasp goal rescues Loughgiel
St Thomas' seemed poised to dethrone reigning All-Ireland kingpins Loughgiel Shamrocks when they led by four points in the dying moments of extra-time in a gripping clash at Parnell Park.
But then Liam Watson stepped forward and rescued the champions, initially seeing a rasping free deflected over before sending a 20-metre free to the net with the last puck of the game.
"I just kept saying to myself 'hit it well and it will go in'. Thankfully it did," said Watson. "Things had not gone that well for me but when you get chances like that you have to take them."
Both sides were unhappy with the gluey pitch but they still served up an enthralling encounter, and the two sides were given a standing ovation at the end.
St Thomas' manager John Burke said that while there was disappointment at letting a four-point lead slip, he believes they can learn from the experience.
"It is great to have another shot at it. They are the All-Ireland champions and you can see why. They were gone and they came back into it," he said.
"It was a big learning day for us, it was our first ever game outside Galway and it was a good experience for a young side. It is great to have another day out of it. It was heart-stopping stuff."
While Watson was the Loughgiel hero, the undoubted star of the day was St Thomas' Conor Cooney.
He put the disappointment of last year's All-Ireland final behind him – he was brought in as a Galway sub in the drawn match and then replaced – and produced a display which could make him a regular for the Tribesmen.
Playing in a variety of positions, he hit 0-12, including seven from play and sidelines from either side. He had the composure to land the equaliser from the right-wing in stoppage-time in normal time.
Loughgiel led 1-7 to 0-8 at the interval. St Thomas' then went three points in front, only for the holders to retake the lead.
Cooney rescued St Thomas' and a goal from Gerald Murray pushed them 1-21 to 2-15 in front at half-time in extra-time, but Watson then produced his heroics.
SCORERS – St Thomas': C Cooney 0-12 (2f, 2 s-l, 1 '65'), B Burke 0-4, G Murray 1-1, J Regan, K Burke 0-3 each, Richard Murray, David Burke 0-1 each. Loughgiel Shamrocks: L Watson 1-7 (1-7f), B McCarry 1-2, S Casey 1-1, J Scullion 0-4, E McCloskey 0-3, T McCloskey, S Dobbin 0-1 each.
St Thomas' – P Skehill; C Burke, Robert Murray, S Skehill; E Tannion, Darragh Burke, S Burke; K Burke, David Burke; S Cooney, C Cooney, J Regan; A Kelly, Richard Murray, B Burke. Subs: E Burke for C Burke (67), G Murray for S Cooney (60).
Loughgiel Shamrocks – D Quinn; P Gillan, N McGarry, M McFadden; J Campbell, M Scullion, J Campbell; B McAuley, T McCloskey; L Watson, D Laverty, E McCloskey; B McCarry, J Scullion, S Casey. Subs: O McFadden for B McAuley (78), S Dobbin for D Laverty (65).
REF – B Kelly (Westmeath).