Offaly and Leinster champions Kilcormac/Killoughey were left to wonder what might have been after two sendings off cost them the chance of adding an All Ireland title to their already impressive haul during this campaign.
AIB All Ireland Club Senior Hurling Final
St Thomas (Galway) 1-11
Kilcormac/Killoughey (Offaly) 1-9
Kilcormac/Killoughey boss Danny Owens and selectors Tommy Bracken and Jimmy Dunne called up Trevor Fletcher to the starting 15 in place of the injured Dan Currams and he scored 1-1 on the day and in fact proved to be K/K’s only scorer from play. The absence of Currams, who sustained a broken arm during a challenge game against Kilkenny U-21’s the previous Sunday, proved a massive blow to K/K.
Kilcormac/Killoughey led by 1-9 to 1-7 with just over 20 minutes to go, but the tide swung viciously against them as St Thomas dug out the victory.
The Galway champions registered the final four points of the game, while the sending off of both Kilcormac/Killoughey midfielders in the final 10 minutes, Killian Leonard and Damien Kilmartin, left the Offaly side with a mountain to climb in the closing stages. The straight red card shown to Leonard, for a 49th minute tackle on Darragh Burke, was particularly harsh and one of numerous dubious decisions made by referee John Sexton. Kilmartin received a second yellow card in the 57th minute.
St Thomas got level at 1-9 apiece on 49 minutes, and their Galway inter-county star Conor Cooney took them over the line, as he struck the final two points of the game, both from play, to give them the win.
St Thomas edged a competitive first half, and led 1-7 to 1-5 after the first 30 minutes. Driving rain and sleet affected the conditions in the latter stages of the first half, but both sides finished the opening period strongly.
The opening 10 minutes were characterised by some nervousness from both teams, as they struggled to find their range, registering a lot of wides and generally failing to retain possession for long.
It was 0-3 apiece after 11 minutes. All three Kilcormac/Killoughey scores came from placed balls from Ciarán Slevin, one an outstanding side-line cut from the right wing. St Thomas were much more threatening from play, with James Regan, Anthony Kelly and Bernard Burke all clipping over fine efforts from open action.
St Thomas were beginning to play increasingly fluent hurling as the half went on, and edged ahead for the first time when Conor Cooney knocked over a free. However, moments later, on 18 minutes, KK regained the lead when Trevor Fletcher, in for the injured Daniel Currams, found the net.
It all came from a long ball which the St Thomas defence didn’t deal with. A coming together of hurls close to goal flicked the sliotar in the direction of the onrushing Fletcher, who swung his hurl at it, missed it, and then cleverly kicked it into the corner of the net.
That made it 1-3 to 0-4, but St Thomas soon regained the lead when they scored a goal of their own. It all came about from a Cooney free. He stood over a placed ball 20 metres from goal, and despite the fact that there were just 25 minutes played, and that there was just one point between them at that stage, he went for goal.
His shot was blocked by the defenders on the line, but it fell into the path of full-forward Richie Murray, who crashed to the net.
Kilcormac/Killoughey recovered well, and Slevin kept the score-line tight with two nerveless frees in the closing minutes of the half. However, a sublime Kenneth Burke score from the right wing left St Thomas two ahead going in.
Three superb Slevin frees after the restart put Kilcormac/Killoughey 1-9 to 1-7 ahead after 41 minutes, and the Leinster champions were battling superbly, getting blocks in all over the pitch, and stifling St Thomas, despite the fact that the western club had more possession and were creating more chances from play.
St Thomas restored parity with just over 10 minutes to go, courtesy of two excellent Murray points, the second of which was a wonderful finish following a great catch and sharp turn.
The match couldn’t have been more evenly poised going into the final 10 minutes, and it could have gone either way, but the sending off of Leonard, for a foul on Darragh Burke, proved decisive.
Equally decisive was the entrance of the sixth Burke brother, Éanna, as a substitute after 42 minutes. He proved highly influential around the middle, and was involved in both Cooney points, which ultimately won the day.
Kilcormac/Killoughey did switch Kevin Grogan to full forward late on in a final fling of the dice to try to retrieve the situation but it just wasn’t to be as St Thomas held on for their first All-Ireland crown.
Kilcormac/Killoughey: Ciaran Slevin 0-8 (0-5 frees, 0-1 ‘65, 0-1 side-line cut), Trevor Fletcher 1-1.
St Thomas: Richie Murray 1-2, Conor Cooney 0-5 (0-2 frees, 0-11 ‘65), James Regan 0-1, Anthony Kelly 0-1, Bernard Burke 0-1, Kenneth Burke 0-1.
Kilcormac/Killoughey: Conor Slevin; John Grogan, Ger Healion, Alan McConville; Kevin Grogan, Peter Healion, Brian Leonard; Damien Kilmartin, Killian Leonard; Ciaran Slevin (capt.), Conor Mahon, Peter Geraghty; James Gorman, Trevor Fletcher, Thomas Geraghty.
Subs: Mark Leonard for T Fletcher (55 mins), Chris Guinan for P Geraghty (57 mins).
St Thomas: Patrick Skehill; Sean Skehill, Robert Murray (capt.), Cathal Burke; Enda Tannion, Darragh Burke, Sean Burke; James Regan, David Burke; Bernard Burke, Conor Cooney, Shane Connor; Kenneth Burke, Richie Murray, Anthony Kelly.
Subs: Éanna Burke for A Kelly (42 mins), Gerald Murray for B Burke (59 mins).
Referee: John Sexton (Cork)
Report from www.offaly.gaa.ie