Sherry's Roy of Rovers finish foils Cushendall
St Thomas' 0-18 Ruairí óg Cushendall 2-11
Usually corner-backs are as far away from the limelight as possible, given the unglamorous nature of their position, but David Sherry thrust himself into centre stage with a glorious match-winner for St Thomas' at Parnell Park on Saturday.
Not since Domhnall O'Donovan's equaliser for Clare in the 2013 All-Ireland SHC final has a corner-back had such a profound effect on a major contest and it was a Roy of the Rovers finale which was fitting of an epic duel.
"They were playing five up top, so we moved him up and for a guy who's been playing corner-back all year to come up and take on that score, it really was Roy of the Rovers stuff," St Thomas' boss Kevin Lally said.
"I just thought we needed energy and David Sherry has that in spades. He's probably the fittest guy on the team, he's a guy who's just mad for work and he's great on the ball. We rolled the dice and thankfully it came off."
That only tells half the story, however, as Ruairí Óg Cushendall overturned a seven-point half-time deficit, 0-13 to 1-3, to push the 2013 All-Ireland champions to the pin of their collar in a pulsating second-half.
Eamon Gillan's men looked a beaten docket, having played second fiddle in nearly every sector, but as the Green Glens of Antrim rang around Parnell Park upon the resumption, something stirred inside the Ulster champions.
Fergus McCambridge's magnificent 41st minute goal - allied with yet another defiant performance from talisman Neil McManus - brought them back to life and they looked the likeliest winners when Paddy McGill levelled nine minutes later.
They just couldn't get their noses in front, but while Sherry (below) saved St Thomas' bacon with a superb injury-time effort, Cushendall had one last chance to level. Donal McNaughton opted to go for goal and his stinging shot was saved on the line by full-back Cathal Burke as the hot favourites held on.
"I don't know how you'd describe it," a crestfallen Gillan said. "I thought we were going to win it. When we went level, I thought, 'there's enough time to win this match', but there was enough time to lose it as well.
"We just couldn't break the ice. When we went level, I could see them panicking, their sideline was going buck mad. If that last shot had gone over the bar, we'd have got another go at it.
"But, look, the full-back did well. If it had gone into the back of the net, he would have been a hero and that's the way it works in this game - you can be a villain or a hero. He's had a great year."
The game was only three minutes old when Cushendall were handed a dream start with a dubious penalty as McManus sent Gerald Murray the wrong way, but the Galway champions quickly found their stride with a stiff breeze at their backs.
With Fintan Burke lording it at wing-back, they had a huge platform to build from and they quickly raced into a five-point lead, 0-9 to 1-1, with Bernard Burke on song up front.
Seán McAfee hit Ruairí Óg's only score from play in the 25th minute to momentarily break their resistance, but there was only one team in it and a slick St Thomas' side powered on to the break with four of the next five points.
Kenneth Burke hobbled off with a serious hamstring injury just minutes into the new half - and requires a miraculous recovery to make the final - as Ruairí Óg came out rejuvenated after the break, while still deploying Alex Delargy as sweeper.
Eoghan Campbell surged forward to point, while McCambridge's goal - after a sumptuous reverse handpass from McNaughton - was the catalyst for their resurgence as they nullified all the big guns from St Thomas'.
All of a sudden Cushendall were level as panic gripped St Thomas', but the Peterswell Kilchreest side found their feet, with fine efforts from James Regan and Darragh Burke helping to weather the storm.
Cushendall weren't finished, though, and two placed balls from McManus drew them level with injury-time approaching, only for Sherry to come up trumps and book their final place in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Lally was under no illusions about whether a similar display would suffice against six-time All-Ireland champions, Ballyhale Shamrocks, on St Patrick's Day, though.
"We've been tested to the limit and let's be fair about it, Ballyhale aren't going to lose any sleep over that, they're not.
"They're going to go in as raging hot favourites in the final. They are, and that's not trying to big them up or anything," he said.
SCORERS - St Thomas': Darragh Burke 0-6 (4f), E Burke 0-3, B Burke and J Regan 0-2 each, C Cooney, K Burke, D McGlynn, S Cooney (f), D Sherry 0-1 each. Cushendall: N McManus 1-6 (1-0 pen, 4f, 2 '65), F McCambridge 1-1, P McGill 0-2, S McAfee and E Campbell 0-1 each.
ST THOMAS' - G Murray; C Mahoney, C Burke, D Sherry; D Cooney, S Cooney, F Burke; J Regan, David Burke; C Cooney, Darragh Burke, B Burke; E Burke, B Farrell, K Burke. Subs: D McGlynn for K Burke inj (35), S Skehill for Farrell (58).
CUSHENDALL - E Gillan; D Kearney, M Burke, S Delargy; E Campbell, A Graffin, P Burke; F McCambridge, N McManus; D McNaughton, E McKillop, R McCambridge; P McGill, S McAfee, A Delargy. Subs: C Carson for R McCambridge (half-time), S Walsh for S Delargy (54).
REF - P O'Dwyer (Carlow).
Subscribe to The Throw-In, Independent.ie's weekly Championship podcast, for the best in GAA discussion and analysis every Monday, with some of the biggest names in football and hurling from Joe Brolly, Tomás Ó'Sé, Brendan Cummins and John Mullane.