St Thomas take another step forward in All-Ireland club semi-final
St Thomas head to Parnell Park on Saturday to take on the current All-Ireland champions Loughgiel Shamrocks (4pm) in the All-Ireland semi-final with many supporters believing the club is in bonus territory.
And, after winning the club's first Galway senior county title last November, perhaps it is.
When winning the Galway county championship, beating Loughrea by a goal in the final, they broke new ground. However John Burke's panel now want to try to go another step and reach the All-Ireland club hurling final on St Patrick's day.
Between 1992 and 2010 only five clubs had won the Galway senior hurling championship. And one of those clubs, Loughrea, only had a single success - in 2006.
The competition had been more or less monopolised by Sarsfields, Athenry, Portumna and, to a lesser extent, Clarinbridge, in that period.
Clubs like St Thomas, drawn from around 350 houses on either side of a stretch of road between Loughrea and Gort, had been into quarter-finals and semi-finals before, but few expected them to alter the script.
It was when Gort made their significant breakthrough in 2011 that St Thomas really took note. Not just because they were neighbours, but because they knew how they matched up against the new champions. They were not far away.
Free-taker Conor Cooney
“We’re in between Gort and Loughrea. A small rural club,” says Conor Cooney. “ But we played Gort in the semi-final the year they won the championship, and they were deserved winners, fair play to them. We just thought after that if we could put in that extra stride, we’d be there or thereabouts, and we were.”
Cooney had a very fine year with the Galway seniors last year, winning a Leinster title and being involved in the All-Ireland final, but for the young student teacher, playing a key role as the club annexed its first senior title ever was a terrific experience.
“It was unreal,” he says. “ It was very special to win a senior county title with the club, with the lads you have grown up with and hurled with since you were young. It was definitely special. We have a fairly young team. A lot of us were u-21 last year. There’s been a lot of work done at underage. I can remember since u-12, training two or three times a week. There’s serious effort being put in by different people behind the scenes that don’t get named.”
Cooney and his teammates enjoyed the aftermath of winning the Tom Callanan Cup, but they are now totally focused on trying to go a step further.
“We enjoyed the celebrations and took a bit of a break for Christmas, but since then we’ve been back training and there’s no messing now. We’ve played a couple of games and we’re training hard. Everything is targeted towards the game on Saturday and we’re looking forward to it,” he says.
“Loughgiel are a serious outfit. They’ve serious hard workers and top quality forwards. The likes of Liam Watson is a serious detail, but we’ll give it our best shot. They are All-Ireland champions, they are up there to be taken down and we’ll do our best.
“We didn’t think anything past the Galway county championship. But, when we won that and we got into the dressing room, we agreed there was another step to go. We said we’d enjoy ourselves, but then get back to the hard graft. Taking on the All-Ireland champions is a big step, but we’ll see how it goes. All you can do is your best.”
St Thomas are up against a serious L oughgiel Shamrokcs outfit, appearing in the All-Ireland semi-final for the eighth time.
They won the 1983 and 2012 semi-finals, years in which they went on to take All-Ireland glory.
They beat Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) in last year’s semi-final after extra-time before accounting for Coolderry (Offaly) in the final.
While St Thomas qualified for the All-Ireland semi-final as Galway champions,
Loughgiel Shamrocks overcame Middletwon Na Fianna (Armagh) by 1-25 to 0-12 before another resoudning 2-25 to 0-12 victory over Down’s Portaferry in the Ulster final.
Thurles Shamrocks play Kilcormac Killoughey in the other semi-final.
*Saturday's game is due to be refereed by Barry Kelly and is live on TG4.