Hurling & Camogie

Loughrea battles prepared St Thomas's for Dunloy challenge - Fintan Burke

Fintan Burke of St Thomas's, Galway, pictured ahead of the AIB All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final this Sunday against Ulster champions Dunloy. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Fintan Burke of St Thomas's, Galway, pictured ahead of the AIB All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final this Sunday against Ulster champions Dunloy. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

ST Thomas's full-back Fintan Burke knows the pace of Dunloy will pose a serious threat this weekend – but he hopes that their Galway final tussles have prepared them well.

Loughrea almost saw them off first time out before St Thomas's prevailed in a replay to win a record-extending fifth consecutive Galway SHC crown.

That sent them into the All-Ireland series yet again, but the club is still seeking its second national title since the breakthrough triumph of 2013 – and have only reached the 2019 decider in their four attempts since then.

However, passing those Loughrea tests has St Thomas's well tuned, thinks Burke: "Going through the Galway championship, it's probably a mSundfaassive help, because you have teams of every calibre.

"The likes of Loughrea are set up the same way as Dunloy. They're all fast. They're sharp shooters. They're good hurlers. So the two Loughrea games probably prepared us well.

"Then you'd have teams in Galway who have more direct hurlers. There's a good spread of different styles. It probably helps us that you're coming through types of teams. You know what they're trying to do."

St Thomas's are hot favourites, odds on at 1/4 to see off Ulster hurling kingpins Dunloy in Sunday's All-Ireland semi-finals at Croke Park, but Burke knows the problems they – and other Galway clubs – have had against Antrim opposition in the past.

Loughgiel, then the reigning All-Ireland title-holders, took them to a replay in 2012/13, while they only overcame Cushendall by a point in 2019.

"Absolutely," says Burke, "and if you look back over the years Ulster teams and Dunloy especially have beaten Galway teams in the past - I think they've beaten Athenry and Portumna as well so it's clearly written in history that Ulster teams can and do put it up to Galway.

"Over the last week or two you are going to do your bit of homework on different players and different styles. To be honest I haven't watched too much of them because I'd focus more on my own game and not to get too caught up in the opposition no matter who you are playing.

"But obviously I watched the county final and the Ulster final and they are not going to get to an All-Ireland semi-final being a poor team. Everyone knows Cushendall, Loughgiel, Slaughtneil and all these teams coming through are all good teams."

Although St Thomas's are recent regulars on the All-Ireland stage, compared to Dunloy making their first appearance in 13 years, Burke laughs off the suggestion that such experience will help them:

"I wouldn't say it's much of an advantage. If you look at our history, in the All-Ireland series, we know how to lose them just as easily as we know how to win them, unfortunately.

"Experience is great and favourites tags and all that is mighty before a game. But once the ball is thrown in, the 30 players on the field…when you're striking the ball over the bar, it doesn't matter if you're a favourite or not.

"All that talk is really just for before games. Once you get on the field, all that goes out the window. It's who will win a ruck or a 50/50 ball and who wants it more on the day."

The desire within St Thomas's to lift the Tommy Moore Cup again is strong, with Burke pointing out that the majority of their panel, including himself, did not lay in that 2013 victory over Kilcormac-Killoughey of Offaly.

"It's more for the younger lads, I think there are 25 lads I counted on the panel, myself included, who haven't got an All-Ireland club medal. So it's probably us younger lads who are driving it at this stage.

"Obviously all the older lads got their one in 2013 and are still looking for number two. But for us the big one is just to get number one and try win our first one….

"It's a long time, 2013, since we have won one. We have had our fair share of setbacks and disappointments when you look at the 2019 All-Ireland final, Ballyhale beating us, and even Ballyhale again last year.

"Some All-Ireland semi-finals you could blame the break or a lot of things, but we didn't really show up – Ballyea the spring of 2017, Borris-Ileigh [2019-20], they beat us fair and square but we didn't perform to the level we know we are able to and that is probably the biggest disappointment and the biggest driving factor.