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Inside Track

Big sporting injustice just avoided in titanic hurling final

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Inside Track with John McIntyre

IT was a game from the ages and for the life of me, I still don’t know how Clare weren’t crowned All-Ireland senior hurling champions for only the fourth time in the county’s history at Croke Park last Sunday. They did so much right and performed with such unrelenting quality and verve, and yet had to engineer a dramatic injury-time point to force a replay.

In another epic final which left the near-capacity crowd breathless, the fact that Clare had to rely on a last-gasp equaliser from raiding corner back Domhnall O’Donovan, of all players, summed up the admirable economy of a Cork team which was living off scraps for much of the final. On three or four occasions, the Rebels were in danger of being swamped by fierce Banner surges, but each time they somehow found a way to survive the crisis.

As a spectacle, Sunday’s showdown will take some beating. The atmosphere was electric even before the action got underway, but what subsequently unfolded simply had the attendance throbbing. Spectacular scoring, brilliant individual feats, a multitude of talking points and enough twists and turns to have done justice to any best-selling Agatha Christie crime thriller.

With two youthful teams setting a furious pace from the start and Clare pulling a tactical surprise by opting for an orthodox formation even if their half forwards operated deep and hardly stood still for a moment, there was drama almost from the off. Darach Honan had the opening point in the third minute and Cork never led until Pat Horgan sent over a classic score in injury time – typical of the Rebels, the inferior team for much of a great struggle for supremacy, but now on the brink of poaching an unlikely triumph.

That scenario would have represented the GAA sporting injustice of the year and though Clare must have been sickened to the guts when Horgan split the posts, they had been responding magnificently each time Cork dealt them sucker-blows and kept their composure again to manufacture O’Donovan’s superb equaliser. Loose talk of a fair result permeated all round Croke Park but, in reality, Clare were significantly the better outfit, had dominated large tracts of the match and should never have found themselves in a position where a tremendous team performance was about to go unrewarded.

It is to their immense credit, however, that Clare survived the concession of three second-half goals. Each time Cork found the net, Davy Fitzgerald’s men simply drove up the field to try and undo the damage. Their players never blinked, stayed remarkably focused and maintained a ferocious work ethic even in the most trying of circumstances. It represented a huge endorsement of the team’s character and temperament. Clare obviously have exceptional hurlers, but equally possess men of great fortitude.

Of course, you could also describe Cork in the same effusive tones. On the ropes for long periods of the final, losing most of the individual battles and with half of their forward making little or no impact, it amply reflects the quality of their finishing – the men in red only registered three wides – that they managed to earn a second chance when other teams in their predicament might have been well beaten. The Rebels don’t do panic and possess such a level of inner-belief, particularly on the big stage, that you just can never write them off.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Superb St Thomas’ take dominance of Galway club hurling to new level

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St Thomas’ Victor Manso is about to pounce on this loose ball against Dylan Shaughnessy of Loughrea during Sunday's Galway Senior Hurling Final at Pearse Stadium. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

Barely five minutes after Sunday’s thrilling Galway hurling final replay at Pearse Stadium, the clouds burst open – raining more misery on a Loughrea team which had covered themselves in glory for the second week running only to discover that their best wasn’t quite good enough.

Of course, Loughrea could have won both the drawn final and replay, and there were times where St Thomas’ were hanging on for dear life, but they were unable to close the deal. They weren’t let, for starters, as the champions enhanced their reputation for getting out of tight corners in Galway.

In the days between the two matches, you’re wondering what either finalist can do differently to give them an edge; what switches might be made; or what new tactical approach might they bring to the battlefield. Mark Caulfield would hardly have featured in any of that conjecture.

He’s a big unit but inexperienced at this level. He was promoted to centre back in the continued absence of Shane Cooney and was doing enough to stay on the team. Caulfield, however, only lasted until half-time last Sunday week and you sensed he was about to make way for the fit-again county defender.

Cooney, however, jarred a hamstring in training which ended that plan. Instead, St Thomas’ turned to former Galway captain David Burke to take over at centre back. If those on the outside had got wind of that, you’d be left thinking that there would be no place for Caulfield at all.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Loughrea’s standing is enhanced as champions pushed to the wire

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St Thomas' Victor Manso and Darragh Burke tussling for possession with Johnny Coen and Brian Keary of Loughrea during Sunday's County Hurling Final at Pearse Stadium. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

EVEN the might Kilkenny hurlers couldn’t manage it in 2010 which underlines how difficult the challenge was for St Thomas’ to complete their own ‘Drive for Five’ at Pearse Stadium last Sunday. Breaking new ground is never easy for the best of teams, but at least the Galway champions will have a second crack at it.

They entered the 2022 county final as heavy favourites to capture a fifth consecutive Galway title despite five of their team – it would have been six only for James Regan’s injury – having started in the club’s historic triumph of ten years ago. It was their first appearance in a final and it heralded a period of unexpected domination which has resulted in six championships in a decade.

Having won every final they have featured in up to now, St Thomas’ have it down to a fine art in taking care of business on the big days that matter. But they were shaken to the core in Salthill and, at times in a great game, you felt their time at the top was about to come to an end. Four points down with eight minutes of normal time remaining. St Thomas’ had never previously faced such a crisis in a county final.

Typically, their response spoke volumes for the team’s resilience and talent. A late goal and two points from the outstanding Éanna Burke looked to have turned the tide in their favour, and they were seconds away from celebrating a milestone achievement – only done twice before by Castlegar and Turloughmore in Galway.

It would have represented the crowning glory for the glorious club careers of the Burke brothers, David, Cathal, Darragh and Éanna – a utilised sub in 2012 – Conor Cooney and Bernard Burke, but fairytales don’t happen as often in sport as some people would like to think. St Thomas’ have to do it all over again but, on the balance play last Sunday, they should be grateful for that opportunity.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Loughrea’s return to big stage can bring freshness to county final day

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Loughrea manager, Tommy Kelly, and team captain Ian Hanrahan, Liam Brady, Branch Manager, Brooks Timber and Building supplies (sponsors), and St Thomas’ captain Conor Cooney and manager, Kenneth Burke, attending the county senior hurling media event. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

THERE was a time when 10,000-plus crowds regularly descended on Galway senior hurling finals, but those days are long gone. The temptation to largely blame that scenario on the near-annual lateness in completing the campaign is obvious, and though it is a factor, there are other more pertinent issues.

The live streaming of matches – a legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic – has hit attendances at GAA club championships, and Galway is no different, but an extra complication locally has been the jaundiced view of many hurling followers, notably in the east of the county, towards travelling to Pearse Stadium for big matches.

We have lost count of the number of hurling followers who can’t stomach the thought of crawling through city centre traffic to get to Salthill. Arriving on Galway’s eastern fringes is the easy part, but then getting across to Pearse Stadium can often prove a nightmare. Parking is another issue. And, of course, there is also the view that the weather is more often than not wet and windy at the county’s premier ground.

All of this is contributing to diminishing crowds at Pearse Stadium, especially for hurling matches. A modest crowd of over 4,000 turned up for the semi-finals last Sunday week and though it was a bleak day, the lack of atmosphere and excitement was plain to see. The ironic part is that the venue is equipped with substantial seating and no shortage of catering and toilet facilities.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

 

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