“Agonisingly Close” – Eamon Gillan Gives His Verdict

By Liam Tunney

The cool of the evening was sidling into the vacuum left by the setting sun at Parnell Park as the Ruairí Óg supporters rallied around their devastated players in commiseration following their narrow All-Ireland Club SHC Semi-Final defeat to St Thomas’ of Galway.

A visibly disappointed Eamon Gillan observed things with the agonised grimace of a man wondering what might have been.

“I thought we were going to win it,” he lamented, “when it went level with four or five minutes to go, because we were on top that whole second half.”

“Agonising is the right word. They just broke away, got a couple of scores at crucial times and it cost us in the end.”

A heroic second half comeback had ultimately ended in disappointment, St Thomas’ corner back David Sherry popping up in the 64th minute to find his side a winner, and Donal McNaughton’s late goal attempt ricocheting back off a defender’s hurl to safety.

Gillan defended the Cushendall stalwart’s decision:

“At the end of the day, if that hits the back of the net then we’d have won the match. If we’d got the score then it would have gone to extra time and that’s a lottery. I don’t blame him.”

The Cushendall men were driven on in the second half by the ever-consistent Neil McManus, whose accuracy and determination restored parity after a brief St Thomas’ flurry had seen them edge ahead again.

His young midfield partner Fergus McCambridge shot 1-01 in the second half, never breaking stride as he dipped the ball on the way to the goal that halved the deficit, while Gillan reserved special praise for Arron Graffin and his Lazarene recovery from injury.

“There’s only one man in this world could do that, and that’s Arron Graffin, he defied logic. But they all had a good second half, they all did things that lifted us.”

The Cushendall manager winces as he delivers his final verdict:

“We should have been going in with less of a deficit, but you couldn’t ask for more, we kept going and kept going and chipped away and came agonisingly close.”

“Agonisingly close” sums up yesterday’s events in Parnell Park perfectly, but when the post mortem is done and the dust settles, Ruairí Óg will be content in the knowledge that they left everything on the pitch, the exhausted bodies and minds that milled among their faithful support on the turf on Saturday afternoon testament to that Herculean effort.

Sherry Dampens Cushendall Comeback

By Liam Tunney

Ruairí Óg (Aontroim) 2-11 St Thomas’ (Gaillimh) 0-18

Corner back David Sherry’s 64th minute point was enough to break Cushendall hearts as Galway champions St Thomas’ reached the AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Final after a one-point victory in Parnell Park on Saturday afternoon.

There was still time for one late Ruairí Óg chance as Donal McNaughton raced clear in the dying seconds, but his low effort was well-saved with the hordes in the stand baying for a point.

“At the end of the day, if that hits the back of the net we’d have won the match.” said a disappointed Eamon Gillan afterwards.

“If we’d got the score then it would have gone to extra time and that’s a lottery. I don’t blame him at all.”

McNaughton’s effort almost capped a Herculean second half effort from Ruairí Óg, as they fought back from a seven-point half-time deficit to draw level ten minutes from time.

The Tribesmen had opened the scoring in the first minute of the game, James Regan punishing a handling error in the ‘Dall defence, before Neil McManus dispatched a 4th minute penalty low to the corner of Gerald Murray’s net to put them ahead.

Éanna Burke almost hit back immediately with a goal of his own up the other end, goalkeeper Eoin Gillan alert enough to turn it over the bar before Kenneth Burke swept over an equalising score for St Thomas’.

Despite missing a few early efforts, Neil McManus broke his duck on 11 minutes to put Cushendall back into the lead, but the Galway men then found their rhythm, hitting 0-06 without reply, with no less than four separate Burkes – Darragh, Éanna, Bernard and Fintan – among the scorers alongside Conor Cooney.

Seán McAfee broke the scoring spree, battling to win a loose ball and shortening the stick to point from an angle, but further points from Darragh and Éanna Burke left them eight ahead, only a late McManus free reducing the deficit to seven at the break.

Team manager Eamon Gillan introduced Conor Carson at the break and with the Cushendall crowd doing their bit to get the Green Glens of Antrim reverberating around the stand, McManus notched the first score of the half from a 65.

Shane Cooney then traded scores with Eoghan Campbell as the intensity began to rise on the Parnell Park turf and there was a further trade, this time between McManus and St Thomas’ substitute Damien McGlynn as the gap remained at six points.

The Ruairi’s comeback then got the spart it needed when Fergus McCambridge latched onto a breaking ball forty yards from goal and as the St Thomas’ defence opened up, the young midfielder raced clear and finished neatly into the corner of Murray’s net to halve the deficit.

The goal appeared to unsettle the 2013 All-Ireland champions and a lacklustre free from Darragh Burke was punished by a swift counter-attack, Carson slipping the ball to Paddy McGill who popped the sliotar over the bar to cut the gap to two.

St Thomas’ roared forward again, but found Arron Graffin in inspired form, the centre-back crowning his Lazarene recovery from a knee injury with the kind of outstanding display he produces with frightening regularity.

Neil McManus then turned provider, slipping hand passes first to midfield partner Fergus McCambridge and then to Paddy McGill who finished from a narrow angle on the right flank to see his side level the score for the first time since the 14th minute, and with ten left on the clock.

The response from the Tribesmen was immediate, Darragh Burke hitting his first score of the second half wide on the left-hand side and James Regan converting after a neat Éanna Burke stick pass.

As he did throughout the 2018 season, Neil McManus again drove his side on, firstly sending over a 65, then converting his fourth free of the afternoon to draw level with four minutes remaining, before the Galway men struck the decisive blow.

With the game entering the third minute of added time, Shane Cooney’s long-range free dropped well short of the Cushendall posts, but in their haste to clear, the defence hacked the sliotar towards the wing.

St Thomas’ corner back Davis Sherry retrieved it, and with a quick glance at the posts, delivered the ball between them to the delight of their support in the stand.

From the resultant puck-out, Donal McNaughton found himself in space to the right of the St Thomas’ goal, and running clear of the Galway champions’ defence. With the posts at his mercy, he opted to go low from thirty yards, but his effort was scrambled off the line as the raucous Ruairí Óg support held their heads in their hands.

Cushendall desperately tried to fashion another opportunity but struggled to clear their lines as the game slowed up, and Paud O’Dwyer’s whistle heralded relief and delight among the St Thomas’ ranks and devastation for the defeated Ruairí’s.

The Galway champions’ victory sets up a St Patrick’s Day date with Ballyhale Shamrocks in the All-Ireland Club SHC Final, while Cushendall will regroup for a tilt at the 2019 season.

Ruairí Óg: Eoin Gillan, David Kearney, Martin Burke, Sean Delargy, Eoghan Campbell (0-01), Arron Graffin, Paddy Burke, Fergus McCambridge (1-01), Neil McManus (1-06, 0-04f, 0-02 65m), Donal McNaughton, Eunan McKillop, Ryan McCambridge, Paddy McGill (0-02), Seán McAfee (0-01), Alex Delargy.

Subs: Conor Carson for Ryan McCambridge 30’, Stephen Walsh for Sean Delargy 54’

St Thomas’ HC: Gerald Murray, Cian Mahoney, Cathal Burke, David Sherry (0-01), Donal Cooney, Shane Cooney(0-01f), Fintan Burke, James Regan (0-02), David Burke, Darragh Burke (0-06, 0-04f), Éanna Burke (0-03), Bernard, Brendan Farrell, Conor Cooney (0-01), Kenneth Burke (0-01).

Subs: Damien McGlynn (0-01) for Kenneth Burke 44’, Seán Skehill for Brendan Farrell 58’

Referee: Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow)

Minutes seem like hours

The auld nerves are getting to Ruairi Og fan Colum Thompson so our occassional contributer has become a regular one. Call it therapy if you like.

Only too glad to give you the chance to steady the nerves Colum

By Colum Thompson

The wait for a big match can make minutes seem like hours, hours seem like days and days seem like weeks. I don’t know whether it’s a curse or a blessing sometimes but when you work as a lorry driver you have plenty of time on your own, time to think. Quite often as you would expect I think about hurling. Whether it be great memories of famous victories or remembering those games that didn’t work out it consumes much of my time. This week there has been little or no thinking about games in the past, just the small matter of an All Ireland Semi Final against the best team in Galway. You think about all sorts of scenarios, who will mark who, what would you do if someone gets sent off, who starts and who comes on to rescue the game. It’s strange how the mind works and I’ve found myself at this conclusion. Cushendall have a free shot here. For once a game without pressure, let me explain…

Ruairi Og have won 14 county titles and 11 Ulster titles over the past 40 years. It is a phenomenal record and one that we are very proud off. 99% of the games we play are against Antrim and Ulster teams, we’d be favorites in the vast majority of these matches and even when we face a fancied Dunloy, Loughgiel or Slaughtneil team we are never long odds. Paddy Power have us at 6-1 to beat St. Thomas on Saturday. For me it’s a total lack of either respect or genuine knowledge of club hurling. We’ve been right in the mix in every All Ireland Semi Final we’ve played in since 1997. Wolfe Tones beat us by a single point that year and we took St. Josephs Doora Barefield to a replay in 2000. Loughrea beat us by 5 in 2007 and two years later De La Salle pipped us after extra time. And we all remember what happened in Navan three years ago…

Conor Carson in action against De La Salle’s Derek McGrath in extra time of the 2009 semi-final

So we go in as underdogs, fair enough. What this does is present Cushendall with a game that they can play without the familiar pressure of expectation. When the experts don’t show you the respect you have earned as a club what better motivation than going and shoving their odds right down their throat? The very fact that pundits in the southern media give you little or no chance actually sets you free. They have lifted the weight off our shoulders and piled all the pressure at the door of the opposition. It means you can go for broke, gamble, be adventurous. Throw caution to the wind and do the unexpected, take the shot on, make the flick, reverse a handpass, double on a high ball on the edge of the square. Savour and enjoy it like when you were a kid scoring a goal, jumpers for goalposts in an impromptu All Ireland Final in the street. In the most critical part of the game provide that one piece of inspirational genius that is the difference between winning and losing. Live in the moment, go for it, hurl without fear… WIN.

St Thomas’ bounced back in 2018

St Thomas’s 2-13 Liam Mellows 1-0

St Thomas’ won their Galway county title last November when the Kilchreest-Peterswell based side saw off the challenge of reigning champions Liam Mellows in the final with a bit to spare

The Kevin Lally managed side oozed class and confidence as they marked the club’s 50th anniversary by powering to their third Galway crown in seven years, and their second in just three.

Speaking after the game Galway county captain David Burke, who was a key figure in his team’s win, said “It’s fantastic for a small rural club and especially this year. We put in a massive effort and it paid off,”

It was Burke’s brother Darragh who took the man-of-the-match award after a superb individual display which saw him score 1-7, 1-5 of which came from play.

Two other Burke brothers also did well, with Cathal solid in the full-back line while Eanna picked off three points from the half-forward line in the first half.

Fintan Burke, Shane Cooney and David Sherry were ultra-reliable in a defence which smothered every Liam Mellows’ initiative at source. The 2013 All Ireland champions were totally dominant at the back and held Liam Mellows scoreless from play until five minutes into the second half.

St. Thomas’ laid down an early marker when they raced into a four-point lead after six minutes, and though Liam Mellows battled back with three pointed frees from Adrian Morrissey, it was evident Morrissey and his colleagues would get little change from a watertight St Thomas’ defence.

The winners made a vital breakthrough in the 15th minute when centre-forward Darragh Burke pounced for a goal after a fumble by Liam Mellows goalkeeper, Kenneth Walsh. Burke was in flying form and by half-time, he had scored 1-4 (1-3 from play) to help his side to a seven-point lead, 1-10 to 0-6.

The second half saw more St Thomas’ dominance as their relentless pursuit for victory drove them on. The made doubly sure of the win in the 45th minute when team captain, Conor Cooney drove in their second goal, and from then on it was just a matter of how much they were going to win by.

Scorers: St. Thomas: Darragh Burke 1-7 (2f), C Cooney 1-1, E Burke 0-3, David Burke, J Regan 0-1 each.

Liam Mellows: A Morrissey 0-6 (6f), K Lee, C Hynes, T Haran, J Forde 0-1 each.

St. Thomas’: G Murray; C Mahoney, C Burke, D Sherry; D Cooney, S Cooney, F Burke; J Regan, E Burke ; Darragh Burke, David Burke, B Burke; B Farrell, C Cooney, D McGlynn.

Subs: K Burke for McGlynn (40), C Kelly for  B Burke (43), S Skehill for D Cooney (59), M Caulfield for Farrell (59), D Finnerty for E Burke (62).

Liam Mellows:  K Walsh; C Reilly, S Morrissey, M Hughes; M Conneely, D Collins, B Leen; J Hastings, K Lee;; C Kavanagh, C Hynes, A Callanan; A Morrissey, T Haran, J Forde.

Subs: R Elwood for Callanan (39), J Forde for Morrissey (39), S Barrett for Fallon (42), C Elwood for Lee (52).

Ref – L Gordon (Killimor)

St Thomas’ Conor Cooney

Semi-final: St Thomas’ 2-19 Sarsfields 0-20

In their semi-final St Thomas saw off 2015 champions Sarsfields by 2-19 to 0-20. The last score of the game came from a Brendan Farrell goal for St Thomas in injury-time as he clinched their five-point victory over the team who Ruairi Og met in their last All Ireland semi-final.

Sarsfields provided much stiffer opposition, but an early Darragh Burke goal provided St Thomas with a boost.  However it was Sarsfields who were in front by 0-12 to 1-8 by half time. St Thomas grew in stature as the second half progressed to go in front 1-15 to 0-17 with ten minutes remaining and outscored their opponents by 1-4 to 0-3 thereafter to claim victory.

Quarter final: St Thomas’ 1-23 Clarinbridge 2-19

The toughest game of the campaign for St Thomas’ in the quarter final when it took extra time before edging past the challenge of Clarinbridge on a scoreline of 1-23 to 2-19. In an incredible game of hurling it looked like they would take a goal lead into the break, only for Clarinbridge to grab a goal late in the half to send them in level on 1-8 to 0-11.

A Conor Cooney goal just after the restart put them back in front and by the midway stage of the second half they had pulled 1-15 to 1-10 clear. However a Clarinbridge goal in the 53rd minute lifted their spirits and they fought back to bring a thrilling game to extra time. By half time in extra time Clarinbridge had edge 2-17 to 1-19 in front, but St Thomas finished with a flourish and outscored their opponents by 4 points to 2 in the second period to book their place in the semi-final.