Reigning champs send message to title challengersMay 3, 2012 - 7:00am
St Thomas’ 0-15
STEPHEN GLENNON AT KENNY PARK
Anyone who questioned Gort’s merits as county champions received their answer in front of a sizable crowd at Kenny Park, Athenry on Sunday evening . . . when they threw down the gauntlet to the other challengers and showed that on no uncertain terms will be they relinquishing their title without one hell of a fight.
You only had to look out onto the field upon the final whistle to see what this victory over their nearest derby rivals St Thomas meant to the champions. Over the Spring, they have, no doubt, heard the whisperings questioning their tame exit from the All-Ireland series and on so many levels that had to hurt.
However, as the bookmakers championship favourites Portumna and Clarinbridge were falling in the opening round, Gort showed some measure of mettle and composure to see off a St. Thomas’ outfit that could – and probably should – have won this game.
To support this view, there were four incidents that utterly and profoundly highlighted this young side’s naivety when it came to seeing out a game that they had a firm grasp of heading into the final quarter.
First, a rush of blood to the head saw corner-forward Gerald Murray red-carded on 42 minutes – at a time when his side led 0-11 to 0-10 and, for all intents and purposes, they were playing the better hurling at this stage.
However, three other key moments – at least from a St. Thomas’ point of view – were in the 52nd, 56th and 59th minutes. In the first instance, forward Anthony Kelly was unlucky to have a shot for goal hit the side netting before.
Four minutes later, the unfortunate sharpshooter had the opportunity to take a point but in this instance he delayed his shot too long and was dispossessed. And in the resulting move Keith Killilea shot an invaluable score for Gort. In the last instance in the final moments, Kelly went for goal and had his shot saved, when, arguably, he should have secured the equaliser.
County champions, though, don’t tend to make those mistakes and when Gort smelled blood, they followed the scent. Despite their numerical disadvantage, Thomas’ had edged into a three-point lead by the 47th minute – compliments of scores from Bernard Burke and Conor Cooney – but then Killilea ghosted in by full-back Robert Murray and struck a wonderful goal to secure Gort parity once again, 1-10 to 0-13.
While the usually reliable Gerry Quinn missed a relatively easy free moments later, Gort now had their tails up and buoyed by a subsequent Aidan Harte point, they would outscore their opponents by four points to two in the final 10 minutes, including injury-time.
Still, St Thomas’ were by no means letting this one go that easily and points from Cooney and Richie Murray did procure the lead for them momentarily – a lead that should have been extended had Kelly availed of the opportunity in the lead-up to Killilea’s equalising point on 56 minutes.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.