St Thomas tipped to oust champions in hurling semi-final
A huge crowd is expected in Athenry’s Kenny Park on Sunday for two exciting county hurling semi-finals. First into battle are current county champions Gort, and their next door neighbours, St Thomas at 1.30pm. That game is followed by Turloughmore and Loughrea (3pm).
St Thomas v Gort (Kenny Park 1.30pm)
St Thomas are slight favourites to advance in this semi-final at 4/5, with Gort at 6/5.
The two sides will be meeting for their third championship game in the past year. They met in last year's county semi-final and this year's first round tie, with Gort having won narrowly on those two occasions.
St Thomas' will be looking to reverse that statistic and, after those two defeats, they will feel they owe Gort a trimming.
John Burke's charges were impressive 2-20 to 0-10 winners in their quarter-final over Castlegar, with Conor Cooney leading the way up front with 1-6 (6fs) from centre-forward.
They have a strong duo at midfield with Kenneth and David Burke, and they will look to Anthony Kelly, James Regan, Richard Murray and Bernard Burke up front to made inroads on the Gort rearguard.
Gort, who won the championship last year for the first time since 1983, will not want to lose their title. However they will need to pick up their form considerably as they were quite fortunate to have edged Pearses by 3-13 to 2-14 in their quarter-final.
Their cause was not helped by a straight red card received by team captain Andy Coen and they were lucky that Richie Cummins had struck two early goals or they might have found themselves out of the championship in that game.
That said, they are a battle-hardened outfit and they will believe that if Aidan Harte, Mark McMahon, Seán Forde, Greg Lally, Brian Regan, Jason Grealish, Gerard O' Donoghue and a returned Gerry Quinn can reproduce the form of which they are capable, they will not be far from reaching a consecutive county final.
The big question is: Can the St Thomas young guns step up and take out a big name like Gort and propel themselves into a county final that their talent merits.
Beaten twice in a championship game by the same opposition inside a year hurts. No player or group of players will want that to become a hat-trick. That motivation should be enough to power St Thomas over the winning line.
Turloughmore v Loughrea (Kenny Park 3pm)
Turloughmore have not been in a senior county final since 1990 when they were beaten by Kiltormer by five points. Twenty-two years is an awful long time and the current squad of players under the guidance of Micheal Donoghue are dead set on changing that statistic and getting the club to the 2012 final.
They ripped up the form guide when defeating Portumna by 0-17 to 0-15 in their quarter-final, with Ronan Badger hitting 0-7 (6fs) from full-forward.
Their half back line of Brian Holland, Daithí Burke and the impressive Kevin Hussey was the foundation stone of that big win. Matthew Keating also had a storming game at midfield and notched three points from play.
They will need that quartet of players and the likes of Galway captain Fergal Moore, Cian Burke, Darren O' Shaughnessy, Brian Murphy and wing-forward Gary Burke to produce the goods too on Sunday if they are to see off the hugely experienced 2006 champions.
It took Loughrea two games, but they finally saw off Mullagh last weekend on a scoreline of 2-10 to 1-13.
Loughrea were runners up in the county finals of 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2010 and they will feel this team deserves another county title for their Trojan efforts over the past decade.
Loughrea will not fear Turlough in Kenny Park and Tom Regan, Nigel Murray, Damien McClearn, Gavin Keary, Johnny Maher, Kenneth Colleran, and the consistently impressive Johnny O' Loughlin all won county medals six years ago, back in 2006. They will feel they are the team with the semi-final winning experience.
They are always difficult to beat and Paul Hoban, Seán Sweeney and Galway star Johnny Coen are all hugely talented players too.
Turloughmore shot 13 wides in their victory over Portumna and such profligacy will be punished this Sunday. The bookies have Loughrea as slight favourites at 10/11, with Turloughmore at 11/10. And the draw at 8/1 will have a few followers.
It will be interesting to see how Loughrea cope with playing three weekends in a row, but considering their championship pedigree (they have been in five finals since 2003) it is very difficult to go against them reaching another final.
Still, Turlough are fresh and eager and it has the makings of an enthralling contest.