A stunning brace of venomously placed ball strikes to the net by TJ Reid denied St Thomas’ a famous win in last Sunday’s epic All-Ireland club semi-final in Semple Stadium.
Kenneth Burke’s sides’ herculean efforts ultimately went unrewarded, with the Galway champions left visibly shell-shocked in the aftermath. It is difficult to envisage a scenario where a defeat could be any more devastating than this one.
Ballyhale Shamrocks were undeniably second best for the vast majority of this contest and yet somehow managed to just about stay within striking distance. When Reid levelled the scores with a rocket of a penalty on 57 minutes, the signs were ominous, and yet St Thomas’ refused to buckle.
Two Conor Cooney frees, the second a peach from well within his own half, restored a cushion that looked to be sufficient given the resilience shown throughout by Fintan Burke on the edge of the square. St Thomas’ were on the verge of inflicting a knockout defeat on the Kilkenny champions for the first time since 2017, but then Fintan Burke was forced to foul Reid on the 21 yard line as injury time drew to a close.
Reid knew a goal was the only option, and somehow managed to drill a shot through the crowd to the net, remarkably admitting afterwards that it was the first time he had scored a goal from a free.
St Thomas’ had not enough time to create a shooting opportunity to try to force extra time, their aspirations of winning a second All-Ireland title crushed.
St. Thomas’ supporters could really not have asked for more from their players, who tore into the game and were on the front foot from the first whistle, with Eanna Burke in fine shooting form in the first half. Eoin Cody’s individual brilliance kept Ballyhale in the game, with Conor Cooney’s sideline cut helping St Thomas’ to a two-point interval lead.
Bernard Burke and James Regan were at the heart of St Thomas’ endeavours as they stretched the lead to four, but when Colin Fennelly eventually drew a foul that led to the late penalty, Reid was the ace marksman required to find the net before his next involvement sent Ballyhale through to face Ballygunner in the final.
Elsewhere, Galway completed their Walsh Cup campaign with a 1-23 to 1-17 over Antrim in Darver on Saturday, with Meelick-Eyrecourt’s John Fleming topping the scoring charts with 1-3.
Henry Shefflin took the opportunity to bring in a few more experienced campaigners for their first starts of the season, with Daithí Burke back in at full back, Joseph Cooney at midfield, and Conor Whelan in the inside line.
Craughwell’s Tom Monaghan caught the eye with three points from play, while Greg Thomas and Jack Hastings also contributed off the bench.
Galway now have a weekend off before the league action gets underway on February 6 against Offaly.
Salthill-Knocknacarra were also unsuccessful in their bid to reach the All-Ireland Junior final, as Kilkenny champions Mooncoin proved far too strong in Limerick, running out 2-26 to 0-11 victors.