Sunday 19 January 2020

Burke hoping to guide St Thomas' back to the summit

John Burke. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile
John Burke. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile

Daragh Small

St Thomas' became the fourth different Galway team to win an All-Ireland SHC club title since the turn of the century in 2013.

It was a skilful team backboned by the burgeoning underage talent in the county. Names like Burke, Cooney and Regan starred in the Galway minor and U-21 successes.

It seemed like manager John Burke had unearthed the perfect team to dominate as Portumna had previously. Athenry and Clarinbridge also lifted the Tommy Moore Cup since 2000, but for St Thomas', senior success was unprecedented.

They reached their first county final in 2012-'13, and that victory over Loughrea was their inaugural title. And while the All-Ireland win against Kilcormac-Killoughey was ground-breaking, the Kilchreest, Peterswell and Castledaly club returned to the doldrums.

Finally tomorrow, St Thomas' will make their reappearance in a county final at Pearse Stadium. Injuries have worked against them in recent years, but they will be back to full strength against Gort.

"It was unheard of to win the All-Ireland from our point of view," said John Burke, who has six sons on the panel: David, Darragh, Kenneth, Sean, Cathal and Eanna. "We would have a lot of good players down through the years, but we never got a group like this - they knitted together with the older guys.

"We were unlucky in 2011, we were pipped in the semi-final. In 2012, we got the breakthrough, it was wonderful. But in the last number of years, in 2013 we were beaten by a point in a replayed semi-final by Portumna and they won the All-Ireland.

"In 2014 we had a lot of injuries and had several players with some kind of surgery in the last few years, but now we have those players back and a few new guys."

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St Thomas' lost three games in Group 1 this term, but victories over Castlegar and Turloughmore earned them a preliminary quarter-final.

They then got the better of Beagh, before wins against Portumna and Loughrea saw them into the decider.

In the decider they come against near neighbours Gort, who won county titles in 2011 and 2014. And even with Galway stars like All-Star David Burke and ace forward Conor Cooney - John Burke feels that his team will have it all to do. "There is great excitement in both clubs. Everyone knows each other on the two teams. It is great for the area to have the two teams there."

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