St. Thomas' hope to make amends against Ballyhale Shamrocks
By John Harrington
St. Thomas’ defender, Fintan Burke, is all too aware of the threat that reigning champions Ballyhale Shamrocks will pose in Sunday’s AIB All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final.
The Galway and Kilkenny champions also went toe to toe in the 2019 All-Ireland Final and Ballyhale came out on top convincingly, winning by a scoreline of 2-28 to 2-11.
Burke doesn’t necessarily agree that St. Thomas’ have a point to prove on Sunday, but knows nothing less than their very best will be good enough if they are to dethrone the current kings of club hurling.
“We always have a point to prove to ourselves firstly,” said Burke.
“Obviously we didn't show up in 2019 and injuries didn't help things, but we would think that if we can show up ourselves and perform to as good as we can that hopefully we won't be too far off it.
“We never spoke about it or went into detail on it, but I think everybody learned what level Ballyhale are at compared to where we were and they were definitely a level ahead of us. Hopefully we learned that we need to bring our 'A' game if we're going to have a go at all.
“If those six Ballyhale forwards lined out for Kilkenny in the morning, no one would bat and eyelid. That's the level of hurling there. With Shane (Cooney) missing, probably from our most key position of centre-back, it puts us under that bit more pressure. You can only do what you can do. We're going to do our very best to keep them out.”
That 2019 All-Ireland Final defeat was an especially miserable day for Burke who was forced off in the second-half with a ruptured cruciate ligament.
It says a lot about his strength of character that he made a full recovery in just six months, making his comeback in the 2020 SHC Final when St. Thomas defeated Turloughmore
“I work as an electrician so once I did the knee I was out of work for about four months so I had nothing else really to do with my time other than rehab,” says Burke.
“I said it as a joke in the dressing-room after we lost to Ballyhale, I said to (team manager) Kevin Lally that I'd make it back for the county final and he kind of laughed about it and said nothing but in the back of the mind it was always there that I was going to try to make it back.
“That was nearly the main motivating factor of having something to look forward to and having a reason to get up in the morning and do my exercises.
“I was back training around quarter-final stage and I was gunning to go for the semi-final but Kevin Lally was holding me back, holding me back. Thank God, with 20 minutes to go in the County Final, I had a chance to go on.”
St Thomas’ 2021 Galway SHC success was their fourth county title in a row and sixth in ten years.
Five of those six county final wins were hard-fought and won by margins of four point or less, which tells you a lot about the character of this St. Thomas’ team.
“It helps when you're going into the last five or 10 minutes of a game, and you might be a point or two down, you know that the lad beside you is going to give just as much as you are willing to give,” says Burke.
“Everyone is friends. We probably don't take notice because, it's just normal to us, but everyone is friend. We all go for drinks together, we all do everything together. There are seven or eight of us that work as electricians together.”
St. Thomas’ success in recent years is something of a loaves and fishes miracle considering they draw their players from a seven-mile stretch of the R380 in Galway between Kilchreest and Peterswell.
Their golden generation won’t be around forever, so Burke is determined to make the most of these glory years.
“It's about making hay while the sun shines and trying to win as much as we can while we're on top because it's not always going to be as good as it is now," he says.
“All the way up along, we'd be competing at a B or C level. Even now, I think we have no team coming through the club that are competing at the A level. It's about trying to get one or two good young lads every year coming through. We don't have the catchment to be competing at that stage. We have 15 young lads for most teams.
“In a few years time, the pendulum will swing to the bigger towns and villages that people are moving into, the likes of Clarinbridge and Turloughmore which are closer to Galway city. That will put us under pressure being so rural. You just have to embrace the challenge, and go as hard as you can for as long as you are at it.”