It was a fairytale ending to a journey that began in March when Fintan Burke tore his cruciate knee ligament in the second half of the All-Ireland club final when St Thomas were pulled apart by Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Eight monts later, two crucial points by No 30, Fintan Burke, in the final 10 minutes kept St Thomas’s noses in front in Sunday's county final. Winning manager Kevin Lally says his recovrty and determination is incredible.
“When he tore his cruciate on Paddy’s Day, he got the news in the dressing room afterwards, he turned around to me when the physio said it to him and said to me, ‘I will be back for the county final.’
“What he has done to get here is incredible - double gym sessions, gym in the morning before he goes to work and then again in the evenings. He’s been brilliant around the set-up all year. There’s never been any negativity. He’s been driving us on, he has been ultra-professional.”
The 22-years-old felt the challenge was more mental than physical. A year in which a breakthrough into the Galway team looked possible was cruelly cut short, and the carrot of a second county final appearance was the focus he required.
“It was always in the back of my mind,” Burke admitted. “It’s just something to work towards, something to get you up in the morning tp get you going to the gym. You can see when a fella does his cruciate and they get forgotten about again until they come back.
“They don’t realise what has to go into it to get back. It’s physio three or four times a week. The mental side of it is torture. You’re sitting at home and the boys are going training or going off doing things, and you just have to sit at home.
“I went back training after the quarter-final, just hoping the boys would pull through. I tried to get to Santry two weeks ago with no luck, but last Wednesday I got the go-ahead from my surgeon Ray Moran.
“I think I was more of a target than a forward,” Burke stated. “The boys just said ‘come on and give it your all, break ball’, but I don’t really think they expected me to score. The scores were important, but if I had come on to the field for 10 minutes and done nothing but still helped us win the match, it would be worth it.”
Four adrift at half-time, Lally said a more measured approach helped to set targets for the second half. He knew the game’s first goal, which they eventually did score, would be vital.
“Mellows got the run on us early doors, but once we got the guys in at half-time and we went through all the stats, we realised we had two good goal chances and seven sort of silly wides. We knew we were getting a little bit of joy inside. Once we were able to get the ball in there, we felt there was a good few scores in there and thankfully that is the way it transpired.
“On a day with greasy conditions, we knew a goal was going to be a massive score in the game, and thankfully we got it. The win means everything. That these lads have played in four county finals and won all four of them speaks volumes for their character as a group. I couldn’t say enough about the character in the squad.”
The last word is saved for Fintan Burke, who when asked if the thought of more hard training sessions in the depths of winter would be arduous, replied succinctly, “Bring it on”.