New All-Ireland champs St Thomas’ have never been more appreciated

Inside Track with John McIntyre

FOR all their hurling and achievements over nearly a dozen seasons, St Thomas’ hadn’t really permeated the wider public sporting consciousness until a cold night in Portlaoise last month. In an All-Ireland club semi-final for the ages, the Galway champions reached a new level of excellence in sending title-favourites Ballygunner packing.

It was a marathon contest which had everything and saw a defiant St Thomas’ scrape home after a penalty shoot-out. By the time of the last puck – Evan Duggan’s winning strike – the clock was ticking towards 10pm, but the lateness of the hour ironically seemed to only contribute to one of those memorable sporting occasions.

Immediately, there was a new respect and admiration for St Thomas’, and it was significant that their on-field general David Burke spoke about the “goodwill” towards them in his post-match interviews following Sunday’s All-Ireland showdown with O’Loughlin Gaels at Croke Park. The latest occasion on which they have done Galway hurling proud.

Perhaps, the final didn’t quite produce the drama of St Thomas’ triumph over Ballygunner, but it wasn’t far behind. There was no shortage of talking points, not least the failure to award the Kilkenny men a first-half goal when Fintan Burke clearly carried the ball over the line in his vain attempt to prevent Owen Wall from finding the net.

The inconsistent refereeing of Sean Stack in relation to foul play was another big issue. If he believed James Regan had committed a red card offence, how did other players on both sides escape with only yellow? It was a tough scenario on Regan, who I would class as a genuine sportsman. At least, he had the consolation of being one of the few St Thomas’ players to make an early impression and his two opening-quarter points were critical to the outcome.

Meeting individuals from various clubs over the past few weeks, you could sense a rising appreciation of St Thomas’. To have won the Galway six-in-a-row ought to have ensured that anyway, but local begrudgery and rivalry can be difficult to put aside at times. After the Ballygunner game, however, that attitude was virtually gone.

Pictured: The Cooney brothers, Conor and Shane, celebrate St Thomas’ All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling Final victory over O’Loughlin Gaels at Croke Park on Sunday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile.

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