Hurling & Camogie

St Thomas’ and Ballygunner journeys epitomise why you never give up

Sunday is the day the final hurdle clips your ankle, or the day you jump higher than all the rest

St Thomas's Robert Murray,Kenneth Burke and Enda Tannion celebrate their 2013 All-Ireland win
Groundbreaking: St Thomas' Robert Murray, Kenneth Burke and Enda Tannion celebrate their 2013 All-Ireland win

All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling Championship final

O’Loughlin Gaels (Kilkenny) v St Thomas’ (Galway)

Sunday, 1:30pm, Croke Park

There’s a species of clam called the ocean quahog that apparently can live for over 500 years. It’s shaped like a flying saucer, and it looks just like a shell. If you ever were to stumble across it, the most striking aspect of this creature is its unimpressiveness.

He listens to the Bee Gees ‘Stayin’ Alive’ on loop on a casette tape. He thinks casette tapes are still cool. 1977 is yesterday in the grand scheme of things.

He doesn’t belong on safari tours. He isn’t even wanted in captivity.

Yet in a way, he is more impressive than anything that is.

Malachy Clerkin called O’Loughlin Gaels “great survivors” after their one-point win over Cushendall in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Cushendall hurler Scott Walsh lying on ground after All-Ireland semi-final defeat
Down and out: Scott Walsh of Ruairí Óg Cushendall devastated after losing the AIB GAA Hurling All-Ireland Club Championship semi-final match to O'Loughlin Gaels, Kilkenny Photo by Tyler Miller/Sportsfile (Sportsfile/SPORTSFILE)

Cushendall headed down to Navan. Their own hopes and dreams were about all in their favour.

O’Loughlin Gaels headed up to Navan. Anything barring victory would be a complete catastrophe.

Renaissance writer Machiavelli was the first to say that the end justifies the means. In the end, Cushendall hopes were dashed and Cushendall dreams were crushed.

In the end, O’Loughlin Gaels won the All-Ireland semi-final, and the most striking aspect, like the ocean quahog, was their unimpressiveness.

You shouldn’t need a reminder that full-blown samba hurling burns up and dies. It dies far from the reaches of the floodlights of a wintery Croke Park. Sport has long since outgrown its original purpose of entertainment.

Sure, sometimes you get that too. The Kilkenny champions victory over Ballyhale Shamrocks seemed to suggest that Ballygunner would sail up the Royal Canal to claim the Tommy Moore Cup. But no.

They reckon it was Waterford where the Vikings first settled, and it took a similar invasion to knock Ballygunner off their perch. A pack of savages in helmets, still European, but very much from Galway.

St Thomas’, six-in-a-row county champions, the first team to do it since the 1960′s. In 2013, they kicked in the door that wouldn’t budge. A first All-Ireland title, they sigh that it should have led to more.

Éanna Burke is one who is bound to those defeats just as he is bound to a squad of ground breakers, a squad of local heroes. Back then his father John was manager, and he was the youngest of six sons on the panel.

11 years have since passed. Normally in sport that is a lifetime, but in the shootout win the last day out, five Burkes started, while Bernard came in off the bench.

Dejection for Galway after Cillian Buckley's goal at the end of the Leinster SHC Final. Pic Philip Walsh
Survivors: Dejection for Galway after Cillian Buckley's goal at the end of the Leinster SHC Final. Pic Philip Walsh

The county final so nearly slipped away prior to that win, a game ended in equally dramatic fashion as the youngest Burke stuck the ball in the Turloughmore net. That’s the fine margins of this competition.

A puck of a ball, much like it was when Cillian Buckley scored a last-gasp winner for Kilkenny against Galway in the Leinster final last year.

Both of these teams know you just have to stay in the fight. In the game of hurling, that fight is as ferocious as it is anywhere on Planet Earth.

Never-say-die is all well and good, but on Sunday, only one side’s everything will prove to be enough.