ST THOMAS 1-13
LIAM MELLOWS 0-14
For the fourth time this decade St Thomas are the kingpins of Galway hurling after a late scoring burst broke Liam Mellows’ hearts, and captain Conor Cooney held aloft the Tom Callanan Cup for the second successive year after a gruelling battle in Pearse Stadium on Sunday.
At various stages Mellows looked as if they were poised to gain sweet revenge for a brutal loss in 2018, but in the end it was a clinically taken goal by Eanna Burke 10 minutes from time that began to turn the contest in St Thomas’s favour.
Burke’s goal, after a clever flick from Conor Cooney, gave the champions the lead for the first time since the opening minutes, and although Tadhg Haran did level matters again, St Thomas had an unlikely hero in Fintan Burke, who made his first appearance since suffering a cruciate ligament tear in March.
Only given permission by his surgeon to make a return to competitive action last Wednesday, Burke was thrust into the fray on 39 minutes as St Thomas desperation levels became evident. After 10 minutes of relative inactivity, Burke left an indelible mark on a final that was influenced by arctic cold and a swirling breeze.
A defender by trade, Burke clipped over two scores of which any forward would have been proud on 53 and 56 minutes, and St Thomas’s excellent defence, that had not conceded a goal in the championship since April, was in no mood to offer Liam Mellows any easy route back.
Haran did drive over a free as darkness began to envelop Salthill that reopened the prospect of a replay, but when Eanna Burke got on the end of a David Burke-inspired move to edge St Thomas two clear in stoppage time, Mellows were unable to pull off any heroics as Conor Kavanagh was crowded out in the last play of the game.
Earlier, Kavanagh was part of a lively Mellows attack that had accumulated seven points by the end of the first quarter. Haran had got off the mark inside 30 seconds, and with Kavanagh, Jack Forde, and Conor Elwood also finding space to score from play, St Thomas were on the rack and 7-2 behind.
Cue a timely intervention from St Thomas’s coach TJ Ryan, who entered the field of play and initiated a fiery dispute that broke up the game and gave his side a chance to draw breath. It was straight from the Davy Fitzgerald school of management and led to Ryan being removed from the sideline, but it worked.
Two Darragh Burke frees steered St Thomas back on track, before Eanna Burke made it 7-5 and was soon seeing a rasping drive ricochet back off the crossbar. Former Galway minor star Oisín Flannery was causing Liam O’Donovan problems in the inside line, but Mellows ended the half well as Ronan Elwood burst through spectacularly for an excellent score.
Haran’s fifth free of the half gave Mellows a four-point cushion at the break, but David Burke almost snatched a tonic goal late on but made an uncharacteristically poor strike that went wide.
Kenneth Walsh in goal was leading a charmed life, and Brian Leen replaced O’Donovan as Mellows recognised and tried to rectify the issue with their last line of defence, but within a minute St Thomas had importantly struck first in the second period.
Darragh Burke won and converted a free before Eanna Burke was again on target. Mellows were beginning to struggle under the high ball as James Regan became a powerful presence in the middle third. Cathal Burke, Shane Cooney, and Donal Cooney were also getting the better of their men and Mellows were finding it hard to gain any sort of forward momentum.
Bernard Burke then added a huge point on 48 minutes to end 15 minutes of dour stalemate, but Haran quickly drove over another free to keep Mellows two points to the good. Cue Cooney’s inventive assist in St Thomas's next attack, and after Eanna Burke’s three pointer, it always felt as though St Thomas would do enough again to get over the line, which they duly did thanks to the heroics of Fintan Burke.
St Thomas: J Barrett; C Mahoney, S Skehill, D Sherry; D Cooney, S Cooney, Cathal Burke; J Regan, David Burke (0-1 ); C Cooney, Darragh Burke (0-5, 4fs ), B Burke (0-2 ); E Burke (1-3 ), B Farrell, O Flannery. Subs: F Burke (0-2 ) for Farrell (39 ), E Duggan for B Burke (63 ).
Liam Mellows : K Walsh; C Reilly, S Morrissey, L O’Donovan; S Barrett, D Collins, M Hughes; A Morrissey, J Forde (0-1 ); J Hastings, C Elwood (0-2 ), R Elwood (0-1 ); T Haran (0-9, 7fs, 1 ‘65 ), A Callanan, C Kavanagh (0-1 ). Subs : B Leen for O’Donovan (30 ), M Conneely for Callanan (55 ), J Lee for Forde (61 ).
Referee : C Browne.