St Thomas too strong for Gort and worthy county champions

St Thomas players celebrate after winning the Galway Senior Club Hurling Championship final after overcoming Gort on Sunday.
 Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

St Thomas players celebrate after winning the Galway Senior Club Hurling Championship final after overcoming Gort on Sunday. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Winning a first county title is wonderful, but, the second can be even sweeter as the moniker of a "one-in-a-row" team is gone forever.

Many of the St Thomas players referenced that point after their fully deserved 1-11 to 0-10 triumph over Gort on Sunday in Pearse Stadium in the Salthill Hotel Senior Hurling Championship final.

There was a genuine need within the St Thomas squad to prove they were worthy champions in 2012, and that they were a good enough squad to win another one.

They did that with conviction last weekend after a turgid tussle in poor conditions.

Despite playing most of the hurling in the first half, the St Thomas men found themselves 0-7 to 0-6 behind at half time when Gort wing-forwards, Paul Killilea with two points from play, and free-taker Aiden Helebert, finished the half with a flurry of scores.

The second half was more reflective of the overall game and John Burke's side hit 1-05 compared to Gort's paltry 0-3 which all came off the stick of Aiden Helebert and all were from placed balls.

Only two Gort players scored

No side can realistically expect to win a county senior hurling final with only two players hitting scores and the lack of scoring support for Helebert and Killilea was a crucial factor in Gort's defeat.

Another critical moment in deciding the victors last weekend came midway through the second half when referee Leonard Fay in consultation with his umpires ruled out a possible goal for Gort by Michael Mullins for square ball.

The 2014 champions needed that three-pointer to give them some impetus, momentum and belief on a day that things were not going well for them. Instead almost immediately St Thomas full-forward Sean Skehill flicked a sweet ball past Gavin Lally to goal for St Thomas and they never looked like being caught after that.

It was a six-point swing inside two minutes, and Gort never recovered or looked likely to do so.

They missed a few scorable frees too, but the better more balanced team won the day. Six St Thomas players scored, and their forward play was superior to Gort's who were over-dependent on Helebert for scores.

Team captain Patrick Skehill, Conor Cooney (0-6 ), James Regan (0-1 ), Bernard Burke (0-2 ), Fintan Burke, Donal Cooney and Cathal Burke and Eanna Burke at corner back all had fine games for the winners.

Great achievement for St Thomas

Considering that St Thomas lost three of their first four group games, and had some serious injuries to contend with during the season, going on to win the championship was a super achievement.

Speaking after the game, St Thomas midfielder and Galway team captain David Burke said it was a "serious achievement".

"The lads' attitude has been fantastic all year. There was pressure to get back to this level and we knew that. We stuck at it in for the last few years and we have six new lads from the last county final in 2012 and they have really stepped up to the level over the past few games. We have a small pick and we are a tight knit group and that is very important.

"We have massive respect for the Gort lads. It is a healthy rivalry between both clubs. And they have pushed us on. No doubt, they will be back to challenge for the county cup next season."

A big decision by the St Thomas management team of John Burke, Maurice Headd, Claude Geoghegan and coach Michael Haverty was moving James Regan and Eanna Burke to defence, and putting Darragh Burke and Seán Skehill up front, where they both had a huge influence over the past few games.

According to St Thomas team manager John Burke, who has been in-situ since 2008, they just felt they needed to a bit more pace at the back and both Eanna Burke and Regan offered that in defence, while Darragh Burke and Skehill offered a more power and work-rate up front.

When it works, the management are brilliant and if it doesn't they are heavily criticised. For St Thomas this season those changes worked superbly and without them it is highly unlikely that they would be county champions.

A job well done.

Footnote: Speaking of a job well done - Fair play to Galway hurling PRO Joe Keane for a splendid match programme.

It contained 80 pages, and was full of interesting content such as Galway's top appearing player of all time, - Damien Hayes with 111 appearances in league and championship - and Galway's top scorer - Joe Canning with 34 goals and 487 points (589 in total ).

It was top value and was one of the highlights of the day.

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