Odds favour 'old guard' in hurling semi-finalsOctober 26, 2012 - 7:00am
IT speaks volumes for the Galway senior hurling championship that three of the four semi-finalists are unbeaten in the competition to date and that the other, St. Thomas’ only defeat was to reigning county champions Gort, who they will meet again this weekend.
No doubt, the restructured championship has been a real success – the unpreventable lateness of its running aside – and what has really transpired is that the form teams of 2012 have advanced to the penultimate stages of the championship.
Of course, some could make arguments for the inclusion of the likes of Portumna and Mullagh at this stage of the competition, but the fact of the matter is that both were soundly beaten not once but twice this year.
In contrast, defending champions Gort, an ultra consistent Loughrea and a resurgent Turloughmore have all swept through to the closing stages without suffering a defeat while St. Thomas’, who drew with Loughrea in the group stages, have lost only once . . . that to near rivals Gort in the first round.
In any event, there should be nothing between next door neighbours Gort and St. Thomas’ when they line out in the opening semi-final in Athenry on Sunday before Loughrea and Turloughmore meet in what should be an absolutely enthralling encounter at the same venue.
Meanwhile, the semi-finals of the inaugural Senior Shield competition take place this weekend, with Craughwell meeting Tynagh/Abbey-Duniry in Loughrea on Saturday (12noon) and Kinvara and Sarsfields facing off in the other semi-final in Gort on Sunday (11am).
Gort v St. Thomas’
(Kenny Park, Athenry 1.30pm)
County champions Gort will be without captain and defender Andy Coen after his red card against Padraig Pearses in the quarter-finals but on a more positive note, forwards Gerard Quinn, who missed the Pearses fixture, and Keith Killilea have recovered from hamstring and leg injuries respectively.
Gort and St. Thomas’ are no strangers to each other, given this will be their third meeting in 12 months while they have also been trading similar blows in recent times at U-21 and underage level. “We know each other well,” agrees Gort mentor John Commins.
“We have met in two U-21 finals and played each other in three senior championship matches in the last four years and all of those games have always been very tight. So, there is a healthy rivalry between both sides and both will know this semi-final is a big ask.”
As for St. Thomas’, they must be sick to the back teeth of Gort, particularly after losing last year’s semi-final and this year’s first round tie to the same opposition. “That said, we are confident ourselves,” says manager John Burke. “We know what it is about having been around the last couple of years.
“We are learning every day and I think that if we can get a performance out of the team, then we will take stopping also. I suppose, what I’m saying is that it is all on the day. There has only been a puck of the ball between us any time we have played and we will be hoping we get the nod this time.”
Certainly, St. Thomas’ are more than capable of producing the big performances, although they still have to post that big win. Some may say they did that against Portumna last year, but question marks remain over that result given Andy Smith and Joe Canning were unavailable to Portumna due to suspension on that occasion.
In any event, Sunday is a time for St. Thomas’ to show their maturity – for no longer can the likes of Conor Cooney, James Regan and Bernard Burke be viewed as youthful players with great potential. It’s time for them to wield the experience they have acquired on the inter-county scene to affect the outcome of a ‘big day’ club clash.
Yes, St. Thomas’ are due a breakthrough win – no more so than against Gort – but, in saying that, the title holders will certainly want their say. Gort will, of course, have to fill the huge vacuum left by their suspended spiritual leader Coen but in defenders Mark McMahon, Michael Cummins, Jason Grealish, Brian Regan and Sylvie Óg Linnane, they have the players to do this.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.