It was a lovely evening for hurling in Athenry on Sunday with a dry sod and warm autumnal sunshine for the double header in Kenny Park, and the senior tie of Liam Mellows and St Thomas’ was expected to be a highly exciting and competitive game.
The first half was even with little to separate the two sides, and although the county champion Mellows had to line out without key players such as Tadhg Haran, Aonghus Callanan and Ronan Elwood, they were only two behind at the small whistle at 0-10 to 0-8.
However, their over-reliance on Adrian Morrisey for scores was obvious in that first 30 minutes, while St Thomas, under new management this season, played with fluidity up front. The constant interchanging of positions by David Burke, Conor Cooney and Bernard Burke will keep most defences on their toes over the coming weeks.
At half-time there were few in the crowd who would have predicted how one-sided the tie would become with the Kilchreest and Peterswell men taking total control.
Bernard Burke, Conor Cooney, Brendan Farrell, Darragh Burke and David Sherry all chipped in with good points, and they were far superior to the city men for vast periods of the second half, winning comfortably 0-23 to 0-14.
Éanna Burke impressed
Eanna Burke caught the eye throught the contest, and he played a very intelligent game sweeping in front of his half-back line. He collected considerable possession throughout the game, and most of his deliveries to his forward unit were of high quality which was a factor in the high number of points they scored from play. He also threw over two or three points himself in a productive hour of high quality hurling.
U21 star Fintan Burke had a solid game too, and if he continues in the good vein of form he is in currently and stays injury free, he should be knocking on the door of the Galway seniors in 2019.
St Thomas are fortunate to have some very good scoring forwards, particularly Conor Cooney, and the 2012 and 2016 champions showed glimpses in that second half as to why they are many people’s choice as champions in a few months' time.
That said, there is a lot of hurling to be played over the coming weeks.
Round five of the group games is scheduled in two weeks, and then any potential winner has a minimum of three more games from the quarter-finals in to be crowned champions. From that perspective many teams will believe if they can forge a good run of form, get some momentum behind them, then they too could be genuine contenders.
Liam Mellows will look to the key players they were missing last weekend, and feel that they can regroup for either the preliminary quarter-finals or the quarter-finals themselves.
They had some good displays with Kenneth Walsh making two super saves during the game. David Collins hurled a lot of ball too at the back, and Jack Hastings also caught the eye around the middle. That their most efficient forward and free-taker Adrian Morrissey, who hit 0-8 in total, had to go off injured near the end will be a cause of concern for them.
On the plus side, it was good to see John Lee back from injury and he came on for a small cameo role up front in the last quarter. If they can get Callanan, Haran and Elwood back from injury, they will expect to be a lot more potent up front.
Eight teams into last twelve
After last weekend’s action we now know eight teams from the 12 squads that will contest either the preliminary quarter-finals, or the actual quarter-finals in the senior championship over the coming weeks.
2017 champions Liam Mellows, 2016 champions St Thomas, 2015 champions Sarsfields, Castlegar, Gort, Turloughmore, Tynagh Abbey Duniry, and Padraig Pearses have all guaranteed their involvement in the knock-out stages.
There are two games down for decision next Sunday – a double header in Kenny Park. Ahascragh Fohenagh and Clarinbridge at 3.30pm and that will be followed by Ballinderreen and Killimordaly at 5pm in the Senior B Group 2.
In the intermediate championship, Kinvara, Oranmore Maree, and Meelick Eyrecourt are guaranteed to make the quarter-finals by finishing in the top four of their groups, with three matches in Group 1 next weekend set to make the picture a lot clearer in that group: Castlegar v Killimor (Saturday 4pm Kenny Park ), Kiltormer v Kilconieron (Sunday 12 noon Loughrea ), and Kinvara v Kilbeacanty (Sunday 1.30pm Loughrea ).