Difficult draw for champs St Thomas’ in senior title race
COUNTY SHC champions St. Thomas’ will have it all to do to defend their crown after they were drawn in a group containing two heavy-hitters in Cappataggle and Liam Mellows – along with the team that last dumped them out of the senior championship in 2017, Killimordaly.
St. Thomas’ claimed a famous three-in-a-row last year when defeating a resurgent Turloughmore in the county decider and, while they have avoided the 2020 finalists, they have been pitted against last year’s semi-finalists Cappataggle and 2017 winners Liam Mellows.
Both Cappataggle and Liam Mellows have consistently competed at the business end of the championship in recent years, with Cappy pushing Thomas’ all the way in last year’s semi-final, with the champions just edging the contest on a 1-15 to 0-17 scoreline.
While St. Thomas’ also saw off Killimordaly by 1-23 to 2-16 in the quarter-final stage in 2020, they will still be wary of a Killimordaly outfit that dumped them out of the championship at the preliminary quarter-final stage in 2017.
In the aftermath of that defeat, Kevin Lally took over the managerial reins and in the ensuing three years St. Thomas’ cemented their status as one of the county’s top clubs with three senior championship title wins on the bounce.
Over the winter, however, there has been a change in management, with Lally and trainer TJ Ryan stepping down and former hurler Kenneth Burke, who has a growing reputation as a mentor and coach, taking over.
Burke is also a son of former manager John Burke and what he offers is a continuity from two previous managerial set-ups that have been hugely successful.
The 2021 senior and intermediate championships commence on the weekend of September 11 and 12 and, as always, they promise much.
See the full draw and analysis in Tribune Sport this week. The Connacht Tribune is now on sale in shops, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Hurling semi-final is off
Tomorrow’s County Senior Hurling semi-final is off, after Gort GAA Club officially informed Galway GAA that they will not be fulfilling the refixed fixture against St Thomas’.
A statement from the Galway County Board today (Saturday) confirmed Gort’s position, and asked patrons not to attend Kenny Park, adding that ticket refunds will be issued this week.
Galway U20s aiming to end long All-Ireland title famine
Galway U20 hurlers bid to secure the county’s first national title at this grade in a decade when they clash with Munster champions Cork in next Tuesday’s All-Ireland final at Semple Stadium, Thurles (7:30pm).
Under the old U21 grade – changed to U20 in 2019 – the Tribesmen won 10 titles, but, despite a plethora of All-Ireland minor crowns in the last decade, they have failed to swell the tally. Indeed, their only All-Ireland final appearance in this time was in 2016, when they lost out to Waterford on a 5-15 to 0-14 scoreline.
The inability to transition minor successes to the U20/21 grade has, perhaps, become more acute with the seniors’ failure to build on their memorable All-Ireland win of 2017 but, in any event, Galway U20 boss Jeffrey Lynskey says the pressure to succeed – and the ambition – is no different from that in any other Galway set-up.
“Yeah, look, every Galway manager is under pressure to win matches and win All-Irelands,” he states. “It won’t be from a lack of prep or work on Tuesday night. What we got to do is make sure we are right ourselves, individually and collectively, and go out and represent Galway and put in a performance that hopefully will get us over the line.”
Most of the discourse in the lead-in to this All-Ireland showdown, however, has been dominated by Covid-19. Originally scheduled for Saturday, August 7th, the fixture had to be pushed out by 10 days when it was confirmed a member of the Cork squad tested positive for Covid. The HSE decision subsequently instructed all members of the Cork camp to quarantine.
As that story was breaking, Galway were also hit with a case of their own and they, too, have had their preparations disrupted by a similar scenario. “So, they (players affected) have been in isolation,” confirms Lynskey. “We have followed all protocols and worked with our team doctor and the HSE.
“All the lads are due back this week and you are hoping we will have a clean bill of health by Thursday (today). Look, I don’t think there is a team out there that hasn’t been affected by Covid. We were down eight lads the last week, but it gave us a chance to work with other guys, in particular the (2020) minors. So, we have been working away with them.”
While those forced to stand out with Covid issues only missed two sessions, Lynskey notes that they will still have to be monitored upon their return.
“The team will be picked on who is healthy and who is able. I spoke to the Dublin management and they found with the lads who they had coming back (from Covid), their energy levels weren’t there. So, we will be monitoring the lads closely over the next couple of sessions. It is not easy, but you just have to deal with it and adapt.”
All going well, it will be the hurling rather than any other issue that will take centre stage next Tuesday. After wins over Kilkenny (1-18 to 1-13) and Dublin (2-15 to 0-15) in the Leinster semi-final and final respectively, Galway can enter this clash against favourites Cork with a great degree of optimism.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the Galway-Cork preview, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Champs St Thomas’ survive another tight battle
St. Thomas’ 0-22
ST Thomas’ collected their second brace of Group 3 points with a one-point victory over Sarsfields at Kenny Park last Friday evening and, in doing so, they ensured their bid for the three-in-a-row of Tom Callanan Cups remains firmly on track.
The result secured Kevin Lally’s charges knockout hurling and, on this evidence, they will not relinquish their county crown cheaply. Asked serious questions by Sarsfields, the champions stood up to the test – even when Sarsfields took the lead through a Kevin Cooney free with three minutes remaining, it never looked like St. Thomas’ race might be run.
Perhaps, their dramatic injury-time victory over Castlegar had influenced the perception in this regard, but with Sarsfields breathing down their necks from start to finish, St. Thomas’ showed once more just how much they relish a dogfight.
Indeed, it could be said, given the number of tight games they have won in the last three years under Lally, that they have become comfortable operating in this environment.
For this victory, though, they do owe a huge debt to Conor Cooney, who finished with 14 points, 13 from placed balls. His 59th minute point from play, in which he gathered a long-range Sean Skehill sideline cut with the deftest of touches and rifled over on the turn, was a thing of beauty. That point edged St. Thomas’ back into the lead for the ninth and final time.
That not only speaks volumes of St. Thomas’ resilience but also of what Sarsfields brought to the contest. Throughout the hour, they gave as good as they got and, all in all, they were impressive. So much so, one suspects Sarsfields will still have a say in this championship. With the influx of young players – and given what they are bringing – they certainly have the talent.
In addition, Joseph Cooney now has another game under his belt and with each championship minute, he should be edging closer to a return to form. Over the opening two games, the Galway star has produced some fine moments but there is more in the big man.
As for last Friday, one feature of the contest was the number of scores that came from frees, with St. Thomas’, as noted, hitting 13 and Sarsfields converting 10 through Kevin Cooney, who also pointed from a lineball. Such, though, was the nature of this physical contest.
For referees, it’s difficult to get the balance right between this cry from supporters (as limited as they are now within the grounds) to let the game flow and their protestations that every contact made by the opposition should be a free.
Full coverage in this week’s Connacht Tribune