Keelan Molloy celebrates after scoring a crucial goal for Dunloy against St Thomas' at Croke Park.
Keelan Molloy celebrates after scoring a crucial goal for Dunloy against St Thomas' at Croke Park.

AIB All-Ireland Club SHC SF: Dunloy reach decider

AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Semi-Final

Dunloy Cuchulainns 1-14 St Thomas' 0-13

By Paul Keane at Croke Park

Keelan Molloy's spectacular solo goal was the highlight of a landmark Croke Park win for Dunloy Cuchulainns, securing their place in next month's AIB All-Ireland club SHC final.

Gregory O'Kane's Ulster champions were full value for the win, their first at this stage since 2004 when they went on to play Newtownshandrum in the decider.

They will face reigning champions Ballygunner or Ballyhale Shamrocks in the January 21/22 final and will return with plenty of confidence after this excellent display.

Molloy's thrilling solo goal, after being fed by the influential Nigel Elliott, will live long in the memory though Conal Cunning's seven points were crucial on the afternoon too.

It is the first win for an Ulster side at this stage since Cushendall beat Sarsfields, also the Galway representatives, back in 2016.

St Thomas' were favourites but struggled throughout and the five-in-a-row Galway champions were undermined by 15 wides overall.

St Thomas', who retained their Galway title by beating Loughrea in a replay, were fortunate to be on level terms at half-time, 0-6 to 0-6.

In that opening half, Dunloy registered seven wides and, crucially, had a penalty saved.

Cunning presided over that 19th minute penalty after Conor Cooney's crude rugby style drag down of Seann Elliott who'd played a neat one-two with Nigel Elliott to get into a goalscoring position.

St Thomas' goalkeeper Gerald Kelly came to Cooney and his team's rescue with a terrific save, getting down low to his right to scoop away Cunning's effort.

Nigel Elliott, who'd earlier opened the scoring with a first minute point for the northerners, also had a half chance for a goal when his 27th minute ground stroke flew wide.

All of those missed opportunities meant that it was St Thomas' who led by 0-5 to 0-3 after the opening quarter though, with a string of wides themselves, they were less than impressive.

Kenneth Burke's side appeared to struggle with the swirling wind as they attacked into the Hill 16 End of the field and Cooney drilled three frees in a row wide at one stage.

St Thomas' went with talisman David Burke, wearing number nine, in the pivotal centre-back position again, freeing up Mark Caulfield, wearing number six, to operate in the half-forward line.

That switch paid off handsomely in the defeat of Loughrea when Caulfield pinched 1-3 and he struck another fine point here, splitting the posts from a tricky angle out on the right wing.

It was far from vintage fare but Dunloy, who introduced Paul Shiels at half-time, weren't complaining as they forged a point and then two clear in the third quarter.

Both of those points came from Cunning who added another in the 43rd minute to open up a three-point lead.

Three minutes later, the margin was out to six points at 1-10 to 0-7 following Molloy's expert solo goal when he took off through the centre of the St Thomas' defence, following a terrific fetch and lay-off by Nigel Elliott, and volleyed to the corner.

St Thomas' threw the kitchen sink at it late on, moving Conor Cooney into the full-forward line but they couldn't rescue the game and slipped to an agonising defeat, their third in a row.

Scorers for Dunloy: Conal Cunning 0-7 (0-3f, 0-1 65), Keelan Molloy 1-2, Nigel Elliott 0-2, Anton McGrath 0-1, Seann Elliott 0-1, Eamon Smyth 0-1.

Scorers for St Thomas': Conor Cooney 0-6 (0-4f), Damien McGlynn 0-2, Mark Caulfield 0-2, Oisin Flannery 0-1, Evan Duggan 0-1, Eanna Burke 0-1

Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Ryan McGarry, Oran Quinn; Eamon Smyth, Kevin Molloy, Aaron Crawford; Eoin McFerran, Conor Kinsella; Nigel Elliott, Keelan Molloy, Ronan Molloy; Decky Smith, Conal Cunning, Seann Elliott.

Subs: Anton McGrath for Smith 29, Paul Shiels for Crawford 33, Nicky McKeague for Nigel Elliott 58, Gabriel McTaggart for Ronan Molloy 62.

St Thomas': Gerald Kelly; Fintan Burke, Cian Mahony, John Headd; Evan Duggan, David Burke, Cathal Burke; Bernard Burke, Conor Cooney; Mark Caulfield, Oisin Flannery, Damien McGlynn; Victor Manso, Brendan Farrell, Eanna Burke.

Subs: Conor Headd for Farrell h/t, Shane Cooney for Manso 42, Darragh Burke for Caulfield 52, 

Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow).