St. Thomas progress to first ever club final

St. Thomas (Galway) 0-15 Loughgiel Shamrocks (Antrim) 0-7
St. Thomas manager John Burke singled out the performance of his backs after they ended Loughgiel’s All-Ireland reign in clinical fashion in Clones.

It is a season of firsts for the small Galway club who, having won their first senior county title in November, are now through to their first ever AIB All-Ireland Club SHC final.

And they took the scalp of reigning champions Loughgiel along the way, bursting clear in the second half of today’s well-contested semi-final replay.

In last weekend’s drawn game, St. Thomas leaked 3-19 to the Antrim kingpins, but this afternoon they allowed them just one point from play over the entire hour.

Speaking afterwards, Burke said that the backs ‘hurled way better today as a unit, putting Loughgiel under pressure and making them hit the ball’.

They were under immense pressure early on though, with Shamrocks failing to convert three clear goal-scoring chances in the first seven minutes.

St. Thomas survived as Benny McCarry twice missed out on a goal and the usually reliable Liam Watson also flung an effort wide.

The westerners bounced back to lead 0-5 to 0-2 by the 17th minute with midfielder James Regan and wing forward Bernard Burke powering them forward.

But St. Thomas needed a point from substitute Eanna Burke to keep ahead for half-time, leading 0-6 to 0-5, as the title holders hit back.

Watson landed two quick-fire frees and Loughgiel finished off the first half’s scoring with their only score from play from Eddie McCloskey.

The tension spilled over as the teams headed for the dressing rooms, with some of the clubs’ mentors clashing on the way.

Loughgiel were back level within seconds of the restart, a solid strike from free-taker Watson making it 0-6 apiece.

But St. Thomas went on to dominate with a brilliant run of eight unanswered points - centre forward and top scorer Conor Cooney grabbed four of them with Burke (0-3) and Richie Murray also on target.

A Watson free ended Loughgiel’s 26-minute scoreless spell, but the game was now beyond their reach.

The first-time semi-finalists made certain of their prized place in the Croke Park decider with a sixth point of the afternoon from Cooney.

It will be a unique final pairing on March 17 as St. Thomas and Offaly’s Kilcormac/Killoughey are both first-time county champions this season.

Scorers: St. Thomas: C Cooney 0-6 (0-3f, 0-1 ‘65’), B Burke 0-4, K Burke, J Regan, E Burke, R Murray, D Burke 0-1 each

Loughiel Shamrocks: L Watson 0-6 (0-6f), E McCloskey 0-1

ST. THOMAS: P Skehill; C Burke, S Skehill, S Burke; E Tannion, D Burke, Robert Murray; J Regan , D Burke; S Cooney, C Cooney, B Burke; K Burke, Richie Murray, A Kelly.

Subs used: E Burke for Tannion (24 mins), G Murray for K Burke (44), D Sherry for Kelly (54).

LOUGHGIEL SHAMROCKS: D Quinn; P Gillan, N McGarry, M McFadden; J Campbell, M Scullion, J Campbell; B McAuley, T McCloskey; J Scullion, D Laverty, E McCloskey; B McCarry, L Watson, S Casey.

Subs used: O McFadden for McAuley (42 mins), S Dobbin for Laverty (46).

Referee: James Owens (Wexford)

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