Damien Finnerty of St Thomas', centre, and teammates celebrate with the Tommy Moore Cup after their side's victory in the AIB GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final match between O’Loughlin Gaels of Kilkenny and St Thomas’ of Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile.

AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Finals: St Thomas’ win thriller

2024 AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Final

ST THOMAS’ (Galway) 0-18 O’LOUGLIN GAELS (Kilkenny) 0-17 By John Harrington at Croke Park

If you’re going to win an All-Ireland Final, then this is the way to do it.

Éanna Burke scored one of the most spectacular points ever seen in Croke Park to edge what was an almighty battle in favour of an oh so courageous St. Thomas’ team. Winning possession on the left sideline line and hemmed in by a posse of O’Loughlin Gaels defenders, in one fluid movement the full-forward somehow spun on the spot and hit an outrageous point off his left side while in the process of falling. It was a scarcely believable score and a fitting way to bring the curtain down on a dramatic game of hurling that smouldered throughout despite the miserable playing conditions. St Thomas’ win was all the more impressive considering they were reduced to 14-men for most of the second half after the dismissal of James Regan, a set-back that only seemed to heap coal on their fire.

For much of the first half they’d come off second-best in the hooking, blocking, and 50-50 challenge metrics, but they dominated that warzone in the second-half which was ultimately the winning of the game. O’Loughlin Gaels, who take plenty of honour in defeat, may reflect that in the second half they erred by going too direct and attacking St. Thomas’ down the centre instead of spreading it to the wings.

This game was ferociously contested from the off, and despite the wind and the rain both teams hurled with skill as well as grit and endeavoured to play patient, passing hurling. O’Loughlin Gaels had the elements at their backs, but it didn’t seem to give them a discernible difference in the first quarter as defences on both sides dominated. The Kilkenny side looked that bit sharper – their high-pressure tackling and blocking was especially impressive – but a very experienced St. Thomas’ team were able to stay in the fight despite having less quality possession. They needed a heroic intervention from Fintan Burke to prevent the concession of an eight minute goal though as he somehow stopped a shot from Owen Wall on the goal-line. David Burke and James Regan also had impressive moments for the Galway side, with Regan’s second point from play drawing the teams level at 0-4 apiece.

As the half progressed though, O’Loughlin’s started to dominate thanks to the excellence of their defence. Huw Lawlor and Mikey Butler locked things down in the full-back line, and their half-back trio of David Fogarty, Paddy Deegan, and Jordan Molloy didn’t just carry out their defensives duties well, but also posed a huge offensive threat. They hit five points in the first half, with Deegan and Molloy nabbing a brace each. Deegan’s were trademark boomers from distance, while Molloy’s ability to move into attacking positions and create space to shoot with clever movement was highly impressive. Deegan’s second of the day put O’Loughlin Gaels 0-8 to 0-5 ahead by the 25th minute, and at that stage it looked like they’d kick on and maybe take charge of the contest.

Credit to St. Thomas’, though, they gritted their teeth, caught O’Loughlins on the break a couple of times, and when the half-time whistle blew had reduced the deficit to two points, 0-10 to 0-8. And with the wind and rain at their backs for the second-half, they must have believed they were in a great position.

They were given further encouragement when David Burke landed a monster of a point at the start of the second-half, but shortly afterwards Regan was given his marching orders when he caught Jack Nolan with a high elbow. In the face of that adversity, St Thomas’ found boundless courage, and despite having a man less caught the game by the scruff of the neck as players like Fintan Burke, Shane Cooney, and David Burke spread their shoulders and the team as a whole played with a voracious work-ethic with and without the ball. Conor Cooney clipped a nice point from play and then followed up with a free to bring the teams level, and then a Victor Manso point was followed by a monster of a free by St. Thomas’ goalkeeper Gerald Kelly that put his team 0-13 to 0-11 ahead. A couple of minutes earlier Kelly had made a great save from an Owen Wall shot, so two big moments in quick succession for the St. Thomas’ custodian.

St. Thomas’ were now winning most battles for possession in the middle third and that gave them a platform to hurl despite their numerical disadvantage. Every time O’Loughlin Gaels rose a white flag, St. Thomas’ went straight down the field and did the same themselves as Cathal Burke and Manso cancelled out scores by Seán Bolger and Conor Heary. And when Mark Bergin landed a free to reduce the gap to one again, Éanna Burke gave us a taster of what was to come when he pivoted on the spot to somehow score when it looked like he would surely be bottled up. t was only when the game ticked into injury-time that St. Thomas’ tired, and it looked like O’Loughlin Gaels would take advantage when Bergin, Conor Kelly, and David Fogarty hit three fine points to draw the teams level. But in the fourth and final minute of extra-time up stepped Burke to produce that moment of magic that will never be forgotten by anyone associated with St. Thomas’ hurling club. Mark Bergin had a late chance to bring the game to extra-time with a long-range free, but the gusting wind and rain he shot into made it tough ask, and his effort drifted left and wide.

The final whistle blew moments later, and a St. Thomas’ panel that included 10 players who won the club’s first All-Ireland title in 2013 and finally reached the promised land again.

Scorers for St. Thomas’: Conor Cooney 0-6 (4f), David Burke 0-3, Eanna Burke 0-3, Victor Manso 0-2, James Regan 0-2, Gerald Kelly 0-1 (f), Cathal Burke 0-1

Scorers for O’Loughlin Gaels: Mark Bergi 0-4 (2f), David Fogarty, Paddy Deegan, Jordan Molloy, Sean Bolger all 0-2, Mikey Butler, Luke Hogan, Conor Kelly, Conor Heary, Stephen Murphy (f) all 0-1

ST THOMAS’: Gerald Kelly; Cian Mahony, Fintan Burke, David Sherry; John Headd, Shane Cooney, Cathal Burke; Damien Finnerty, David Burke; Darragh Burke, Conor Cooney, Victor Manso; James Regan, Éanna Burke, Oisín Flannery. Subs: Evan Duggan for David Sherry (20), Bernard Burke for Victor Manso (50), Damien McGlynn for Oisin Flannery (59)

O’LOUGHLIN GAELS: Stephen Murphy; Tony Forristal, Huw Lawlor, Mikey Butler; David Fogarty, Paddy Deegan, Jordan Molloy; Jack Nolan, Cian Loy; Mark Bergin, Eoin O’Shea, Conor Heary; Owen Wall, Luke Hogan, Seán Bolger. Subs: Conor Kelly for Eoin O’Shea (47), Jamie Ryan for Jack Nolan (50), Paddy Butler for Cian Loy (59)

Ref: Seán Stack (Dublin)