Burke: 'The quality is there'
By Cian O'Connell
Three and a half years ago at Croke Park one of the greatest All Ireland Club Hurling Championship adventures ended with glory and silverware for St Thomas.
A couple of decades of hard graft far from the Jones Road venue was rewarded on that beautiful stage when Kilcormac-Killoughey were beaten.
Thomas had to overcome Loughgiel Shamrocks following an enthralling two match Semi-Final battle so their place on the summit could certainly be classed as hard earned.
So in the subsequent period injuries and retirements have impacted on St Thomas’, who make a welcome return to the Galway SHC Final this weekend.
It is Thomas’ first appearance in the Galway showpiece since winning in 2012 and the fact that neighbours Gort provide the opposition merely adds to the excitement continues to be generated around Kilchreest, Peterswell and Castledaly.
“We are really looking forward to it now, it is great,” Galway captain David Burke admits. “It has been a while since we were there, but we have been working all year and we were quietly confident that if we got our performances right we would get there again.”
Winning a second Galway crown is a burning ambition for Burke. “It is definitely, just to prove to ourselves that we are good enough to be there along with everyone else who has won two,” Burke acknowledges.
“The quality is there. We know Gort very well and it should be a good game for spectators, hopefully we will come out on the right side of it.”
What has been remarkable about this campaign is that Thomas’ have responded following a shaky start – losing their first two Championship matches, and only winning one from the opening four.
“It was all about getting through the group,” Burke says. “We had been caught with a couple of injuries early on in the year, I was out for the first two games.
“We knew that if we stuck together and kept working we would get a few wins. It just worked out for us in the end, that we got over the line even though it wasn't in our hands in the last game.
“We were lucky enough to get through in the end, but I felt that we had turned a corner in the Castlegar game. If we got through the momentum would be with us and it would suit us going into a preliminary quarter final.
“To come out of a close game with Beagh, our close rivals was a good thing. The Portumna game obviously was great to get over so we have been improving steadily as the year went on. We have built momentum so it has been good.”
Burke, who captained Galway in 2016, was delighted that Thomas’ offered ‘a release’ following a harrowing All Ireland SHC Semi-Final loss against Tipperary. “It is coming to an end, the year has gone fast,” Burke reflects.
“I'm pushing on a bit aswell, I'm nearly the oldest lad out in training there now. It has been four years since we won the last one. We have put a lot of work into it especially early on in the year to get up to the level.
“It has been disappointing for myself and the rest of the Galway lads that we didn't finish better to really build on last year. The quality is there, but it has been a bit of a release coming back in with the club. There are no better lads to bring us back down to earth aswell,” Burke laughs.
Micheal Donoghue was recently given a new term until 2019 as Galway manager – a welcome development according to Burke. “It has been good, they put their own stamp on things,” the two time All Star commented. “We've had a good set-up in the last couple of years anyway, it has been very professional.
"They've put their own take on things in terms of the gameplan and stuff like that. It has been good, players have reacted to it.
"Other players are beginning to step up to the plate a bit more aswell. It is good, hopefully we can find a few new players. You need young lads and you need to be finding players every year to add to the team. Hopefully we can find those.”
Burke is adamant that Sunday’s decider features several promising players that could wear maroon and white in the future. “A couple of Gort's lads have stood out a lot in the Club Championship, Jason Grealish has been going well, Aidan Helebert too,” is Burke’s assessment. “They have been going very well. Richie (Cummins), Aidan (Harte), and Greg Lally are there already so they have the players no more than our own lads who have been going well.
“Hopefully if they can build on the performances in the last two or three games you'd be thinking they might get a look in, but our job is just to focus on the challenge that Gort are going to pose for us. Hopefully we can get over the line.”