There can be no argument now that the best two teams in the county will face off in this Sunday’s eagerly anticipated senior final, after St Thomas' withstood yet another gallant, but ultimately unsuccessful attempt by Cappataggle to reach their first decider.
St Thomas’ were mightily relieved to get over the line by 1-15 to 0-17, thus avoiding another 20 minutes of combat. Whether they can now get the bodies recovered in time to be ready for the challenge of Turloughmore this weekend in Kenny Park (2pm ) is another question.
St Thomas’ will have plenty of motivation as they aim to become only the third club in the last 50 years to complete a three-in-a-row of Tom Callanan Cup triumphs, alongside Portumna and Athenry.
Sarsfields and Castlegar went closest to matching that feat in that period, but were denied at the third hurdle.
Losing finals is not something St Thomas’ has ever experienced, while this will be a new occasion for a Turloughmore group of players who have plenty of underage medals among them, but are now being asked to bridge a 35-year gap since their club’s last senior title, a 1-14 to 1-4 victory over Killimordaly.
They certainly have the depth of talent to oust St Thomas’, but it could be said that their style of play may be more suited to Pearse Stadium than Kenny Park, where Sunday’s final will take place.
St Thomas’ cannot afford to let Turloughmore’s runners from deep break the lines, so tactically Kevin Lally will need to be at his most astute.
St Thomas’ have so many top-class stickmen they can never be overwhelmed on the scoreboard, so it will more than likely come down to who gets the breaks or who can handle the situation better in the white heat of the closing minutes.
The odds compilers give St Thomas’ the very slightest of nods, but it is such a difficult task to predict a winner with any sort of certainty. A draw is also a very live possibility, at which stage Turloughmore’s panel depth and extra week’s rest will become a major advantage.
Agonisingly close for Cappataggle
One could not but feel sorry for Cappataggle last weekend, who left every ounce of themselves out on the pristine Kenny Park pitch, but despite registering the contest’s final two scores in injury time, their best efforts left them agonisingly trailing by one for the third time in four years.
Whether this will hurt as much as their 2018 loss to Liam Mellows, when they held a lead in stoppage time, is hard to know. They were on top of this game for large spells until St Thomas' blitzed them in the third quarter, establishing a three-point lead that proved just enough.
Cappataggle were punished for a couple of unforced errors that did not help their cause, but in the main it was the St Thomas’ core of Shane Cooney, David Burke, James Regan, and Conor Cooney who brought the badly required fire to the battle when it looked like Cappataggle had got them figured out.
Ja Mannion was almost unmarkable for Cappataggle in the early stages, but their tactic of playing only two men inside allowed Fintan Burke the freedom to pounce on any breaking ball or errant deliveries that were sent in.
The game was at stalemate and appeared to be heading that way at the water break, only for Eanna Burke to snipe an all-important goal for St Thomas’.
Cappataggle quickly changed to a man-for-man formation and reaped the dividends, outscoring the champions by 0-6 to 0-1 in the second quarter as Alan Dolan converted a string of frees. St Thomas’ were on the ropes, but Oisín Flannery’s score just before the half was followed by a Cooney free when play restarted.
Cappataggle responded with the next two scores to restore the positive vibes, after earlier spurning a goal chance when Ja Mannion fired into the side netting. St Thomas’ spirits were lifted when John Headd capitalised on a poor clearance to split the posts, and the champions were soon firing on all cylinders as Flannery, Conor Cooney, Darragh Burke, David Burke, and Regan all scored to make it 1-12 to 0-13 by the second water break.
Try as they might, Cappataggle were unable to get back on level terms as goalkeeper James Skehill fired a late close-range free over the bar, before Dan Nevin had a difficult chance with the last puck of the game to force extra time from a sideline cut, which flew wide of the right hand post.
ST THOMAS’: G Kelly; S Skehill, F Burke, C Mahony; J Headd (0-2 ), S Cooney, D Sherry; J.Regan (0-2 ), David Burke (0-1 ); E Burke (1-0 ), C Cooney (0-5, 3fs, 1 ’65 ), E Duggan; O Flannery (0-3 ), Darragh Burke (0-2 ), B Burke. Subs: B Farrell for Duggan (36m ), DMcGlynn for Flannery (59m ).
CAPPATAGGLE: J Skehill (0-1f ); P Egan, J Garvey, D Cronin; D Dolan, R Garvey, A Loughnane; E Garvey, D Nevin (0-1, a ‘sl ); J Egan, A Dolan (0-6fs ), D Joyce (0-1 ); J Mannion (0-4 ), N Collins (0-1 ), D Mannion (0-1 ). Subs: M Broderick for Loughnane (38m ), D Malone for J Egan (43m ), O Finn (0-1 ) for Collins (51m ), M Garvey for Joyce (57m ), S Creaven (0-1f ) for A Dolan (63 ).
REFEREE: L Gordon.