The welcome news broke on Tuesday that the total ban on supporters at sporting events has now been lifted will give 200 supporters the chance to experience in the flesh each of this weekend’s Brooks Group Galway senior hurling championship semi-finals in Pearse Stadium.
Given the prospect of two super-charged contests, these entrance passes for both games will be cherished like the golden tickets in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but for most the excellent online live streaming service provided by Galway GAA, Nemeton, and Galway Bay FM will also be available.
Cappataggle v St Thomas (1.30pm )
For two clubs who have been models of consistency in recent years, it is remarkable this will be their first championship meeting since Cappataggle came back up to the senior ranks in 2015.
They have been kept apart for five years, but now Cappataggle will be looking to bury some demons when they contest their fourth successive county semi-final.
They will surely be happy not to be facing Liam Mellows for a fourth time as they bid to reach a first county final, as two gut-wrenching one-point losses in 2017 and 2018 are surely still vivid memories. Revenge will be far from their minds, but they will have to overcome the fact they are nowhere near as accustomed to the Salthill venue as their three-in-a-row chasing opponents.
Cappataggle have not played in Pearse Stadium since returning to the elite ranks, whereas St Thomas have plenty of positivity to call on from back-to-back county final wins over Liam Mellows. Perhaps a change of scenery from Kenny Park will help Cappataggle banish any negative baggage, but they are still going in as clear underdogs to dethrone a star-studded St Thomas side.
The champions have racked up a mightily impressive total of 7-106 in their four games to dates. Although they left it late to get the better of Castlegar in their first game, they subsequently proved far too strong for Sarsfields, Portumna, and Killimordaly. Conor Cooney (2-44, 30fs, 1 ’65 ) and Eanna Burke (1-17 ) account for just over half of St Thomas’ total, but they have had 14 different scorers in their march to the final four.
Fintan Burke’s repositioning to full back has looked a shrewd move, while David Burke’s form appears to be improving week by week. Oisín Flannery has become another consistent weapon in their attack and Evan Duggan adds further depth to a squad that already has a wealth of experience.
Cappataggle had to rely on scoring difference to top their group, an eight-point win over Tynagh Abbey-Duniry getting their campaign under way. A four-point loss to Loughrea does not look so bad given their recent results, before a 0-15 to 0-12 win over Tommy Larkins sealed a quarter-final spot.
A repeat of the 2014 intermediate final saw Cappataggle produce a defensively superb second half against Ahascragh-Fohenagh. At their best they are renowned for keeping opposition’s totals low, with Kevin McHugo perhaps the county’s best at playing the deep-lying midfielder’s role. Alan Dolan is a composed free-taker and they have plenty of physical presence in their forward line, but the question is can Ja Mannion, Niall Collins, Donal Mannion, and James Egan produce enough scores from play to get Cappataggle across the line?
Loughrea v Turloughmore (4.30pm )
Turloughmore is one of the few clubs in the county currently in a position to field four adult teams at various levels and that both their senior and intermediate sides will contest semi-finals on the same weekend shows the strength in depth the club possesses.
Strong favourites to reach a first senior final since 1990, they were at this stage a year ago only to fall heavily behind early against St Thomas and end up losing by five points.
The pressure to deliver is there, but this group appear primed to do just that, having won a tough opening day battle in poor conditions against Liam Mellows before hammering Oranmore-Maree by 14 points to secure their place in the last eight.
A loss against Clarinbridge can be filed in the “not relevant” category, and they saved their most revealing performance for the quarter-finals when Sarsfields were torched in the third quarter after a highly competitive opening half.
Seán Linnane was one of 10 scorers that day, but Turloughmore are regularly spreading the scoring load. Daithí Burke is getting through an ocean of work in midfield, but also chipping in with scores, while Conor Walsh is a confident free-taker and playmaker. Jamie Holland and Daniel Loftus are quality defenders, but also carry a long-range scoring threat.
Despite their underdog status, Loughrea will care little for Turloughmore’s reputation after knocking out Liam Mellows in the quarter-finals. It could be argued they are the most battle-hardened side left after games against Tommy Larkins, Cappataggle, and a win over Tynagh Abbey-Duniry when a man short for most of the game.
The return of Jamie Ryan to their attack is a boost, but the key elements of their team are in a teak-tough defence that will surely have their hands full. Johnny Coen, Paul Hoban, Oisin Coyle, and Emmet Mahony will have to be at their best if they are to repeat wins over the same opponents in a senior A relegation play-off in 2017 and a 2016 group game.