St Thomas’ hit new heights in marathon semi-final battle with Ballygunner

St Thomas’ 1-23

Ballygunner 2-20

(after extra-time)

St Thomas’ won 4-2 on penalties

THE team which hasn’t got the credit it deserved for past achievements has been deservedly getting it in spades this week after an epic and marathon All-Ireland Club hurling semi-final in Portlaoise on Saturday evening.

For the time of year and a sticky playing surface, what was served up in O’Moore Park would take some beating in terms of raw commitment and courage from two teams who were not prepared to take a backwards step in a riveting tussle for supremacy.

A crowd of about 3,000 should ordinarily have had their patience tested by a protracted battle which extended from 7:30pm to just 12 minutes before ten o’clock, but none of the St Thomas’ fans were complaining after watching their team arguably pull off its greatest triumph of all.

Unfulfilled at national level despite their dominance of Galway club hurling over the past decade, St Thomas’ knew they would need a career best to get the better of Ballygunner and stay on course for a second All-Ireland title, and boy were they ready for that challenge.

They tore into the Munster champions physically and never allowed their heads to drop despite the concession of two brilliantly finished opposition goals in the opening ten minutes, a difficult third quarter and their struggles in the first period of extra-time.

Their hearts were beating strong all evening and no amount of adversity compromised their intensity or hunger. At different stages, different players made incalculable contributions, but when it came down to it, two unlikely heroes stepped up to see them through to a third All-Ireland final.

One of them didn’t even start, but it was substitute Evan Duggan who nailed the decisive penalty – he also landed a priceless point in the second period of extra-time – in the shoot-out, while goalkeeper Gerald Kelly denied both Dessie Hutchinson and Billy O’Keeffe with admittedly routine saves.

No wonder, the delirious St Thomas’ supporters stormed onto the pitch afterwards to celebrate with their heroes just over a week out from Christmas. Their team had done Galway hurling proud and silenced once and for all those critics who continue to question their true worth.

After last year’s injury-hit but limp semi-final exit to Dunloy, St Thomas’ were men on a mission in 2023 but still few neutrals gave them much chance – the bookmakers who priced them at an insulting 5/1 gave them none – of coping with a Ballygunner outfit which had again blitzed their way through Munster.

Pictured: St Thomas’ Conor Cooney is about to score a point despite the attentions of Barry Coughlin of Ballygunner during the All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling semi-final in Portlaoise on Saturday evening. Photos: Ben McShane/Sportsfile.



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