Hurling & Camogie

St Thomas's have had Antrim champions' number in past All-Ireland meetings

Neil McManus rises above St Thomas' Darragh Burke during their 2019 AIB All-Ireland semi-final at Parnell Park Picture: John McIlwaine.
Neil McManus rises above St Thomas' Darragh Burke during their 2019 AIB All-Ireland semi-final at Parnell Park Picture: John McIlwaine.

WHEN Antrim and Ulster champions Dunloy make their long-awaited return to the All-Ireland stage at Croke Park on Sunday afternoon (1.30pm), they’ll face an opponent north Antrim people have only bitter memories of.

St Thomas’s of Galway quickly became Loughgiel Shamrocks and Cushendall’s nemesis when they collided in memorable and exceptionally tense All-Ireland semi-finals in 2013 and 2019, respectively.

Loughgiel, who were reigning All-Ireland champions in 2013, perhaps thought they would win their All-Ireland semi-final replay after Liam Watson lashed home a late equalising goal in extra-time against the south Galway men at Parnell Park.

Still new to the All-Ireland scene, St Thomas’s ended Loughgiel’s chances of retaining their All-Ireland crown a week later with a comprehensive eight-point win at Clones – the side managed by John Burke at the time but with highly-rated coach Dinny Cahill’s fingerprints all over them.

Despite missing a few early goal chances which might have put a different complexion on the Clones replay, Loughgiel manager PJ O’Mullan jr said afterwards that their conquerors were the best side they'd faced during his time at the helm.

Bernard Burke was on fire for St Thomas’s that day, hitting four from play in what turned out to be low-scoring semi-final replay [0-15 to 0-7].

The following month, St Thomas’s were in dreamland when they edged out Offaly and Leinster champions Kilcormac/Killoughey in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park.

Although almost 10 years ago now, a few of the Burke clan are still lining out for St Thomas’s in the hope of landing their second All-Ireland, including four-times Allstar midfielder David Burke and their main marksmen Conor Cooney and Enna Burke, the latter a substitute in Clones back in 2013.

In 2019, it was Cushendall’s turn to have their hearts broken by the Galway men. The Ruairi Ogs rued a nightmare first half at Parnell Park, trailing 0-13 to 1-3, but the Antrim and Ulster champions were a whisker away from competing in their second All-Ireland final in three seasons.

In the closing stages, Donal McNaughton had the chance to level up a pulsating semi-final but opted to go for a major to win it, but his goal-bound effort was blocked by the foot of St Thomas's defender Cathal Burke and the Ruairi Ogs exited.

Fine lines.

St Thomas’s marched into another All-Ireland final but were swept aside by a Colin Fennelly-inspired Ballyhale Shamrocks at Croke Park.

Despite some illustrious hurling lights in the west, St Thomas’s have been top dogs in Galway for the past five seasons, the only club side to have managed such a feat.

They lost only one game in this season’s round robin series in Galway – a 15-point hammering at the hands of Turloughmore – which brought a close to their 22-match unbeaten run.

But they still qualified for the knock-out stages, seeing off Cappataggle in the quarter-finals before schooling Dinny Cahill’s Sarsfields side in the semi-finals.

Kenneth Burke’s men needed two games to get the better of Loughrea with Mark Caulfield’s switch from centre-back to the attack proving an inspired one for St Thomas’s in the replay.

But the main scoring dangers to Dunloy’s prospects of reaching a fifth All-Ireland final in their history remains five-in-a-row captain Conor Cooney and Enna Burke.

The evergreen Cooney has amassed a staggering 4-79 in championship hurling this season while Enna Burke has registered 2-20, with the latter's tally all coming from open play, while the defence didn't leak a goal once they entered the knock-out stages of their domestic championship.

The bookmakers odds have installed St Thomas's as 1/4 favourites to reach another All-Ireland final, with Dunloy sitting at a tempting 7/2.

The fact that Gregory O'Kane's side overcame their bogey team in Ulster - Slaughtneil - might just liberate the Cuchullain's who boast a forward line that was born to run in the wide open spaces of Croke Park.