St Thomas’ are renowned for the quality of their stickwork and ability able to carve open teams when in full flow, but it was ultimately their defensive resolve and workrate that earned them victory in a dramatic All-Ireland club semi-final against Ruairí Óg Cushendall in Parnell Park on Saturday.
David Sherry was the hero of their one-point win - 0-18 to 2-11 - with a superb winning score from the left corner deep into stoppage time, but it was the collective spirit of St Thomas’ that earned them a place in their second All-Ireland final, with full back Cathal Burke’s goal-line intervention denying the Ulster champions at the death.
With the elements in their favour, Ruairí Óg had battled back from a seven-point half-time deficit to draw level with 10 minutes of normal time to play, but crucially St Thomas’ dug deep to fire over two points through James Regan and Darragh Burke to make it 0-17 to 2-9.
This two-point cushion meant they could withstand Ruairí Óg Cushendall’s late onslaught, with their ace free-taker Niall McManus converting a 65 and a free to make extra-time a real possibility. At that stage the Antrim men looked the more likely to go on and win, but St Thomas’ Shane Cooney was a rock at centre half-back, and key forward Conor Cooney also made one vital intervention in his own half.
When a cool head was needed, Sherry cleverly took up a position to take a pass from Bernard Burke near the left sideline, and the corner back, who had been moved up the field late in the game, duly seized the opportunity.
Earlier, St Thomas’ had been rocked by the concession of an early goal from a McManus penalty, but they slowly took control of the game, with David Burke in fine form in the middle third and Eanna Burke taking his chances in the full forward line.
Their lead was halved, though, on 41 minutes when Fergus McCambridge powered through the middle for a momentum-shifting goal, but Kevin Lally’s men ultimately held on to book a St Patrick’s Day date with Ballyhale Shamrocks of Kilkenny, who saw off Waterford’s Ballygunner on a 1-15 to 0-13 scoreline.
St Thomas: G Murray; D Sherry (0-1 ), C Burke, C Mahoney; D Cooney, S Cooney (0-1f ), F Burke; J Regan (0-2 ), David Burke; C Cooney (0-1 ), Darragh Burke (0-6, 4fs ), B Burke (0-2 ); E Burke (0-3 ), B Farrell,Burke (0-1 ). Subs: D McGlynn (0-1 ) for K Burke (33 mins ), S Skehill for Farrell (58 mins ).
Ruairí Og Cushendall: E Gillan; S Delargy, M Burke, D Kearney; E Campbell (0-1 ), A Graffin, P Burke; F McCambridge (1-1 ), N McManus (1-6, 1-0 pen, 0-4fs, 0-2 ‘65s ); R McCambridge, E McKillop, D McNaughton; P McGill (0-2 ), S McAfee (0-1 ), A Delargy. Subs: C. Carson for R McCambridge (30 mins ), S Walsh for S Delargy (54 mins ).
Referee: P O’Dwyer.