Hurling & Camogie

St Thomas' doubted themselves after Dunloy defeat: Kenneth Burke

St Thomas’s manager Kenneth Burke celebrates
St Thomas’s manager Kenneth Burke celebrates after the AIB GAA All Ireland Snr club Hurling Championship final at Croke Park , Dublin 21/01/2024. Picture Mark Marlow

St Thomas’ boss Kenneth Burke reckons that people questioned his sanity. He admitted that players and management had even doubted themselves after defeat by Dunloy in last year’s All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling Championship semi-final.

Yet the south Galway side showed what they were made of by seeing off O’Loughlin Gaels of Kilkenny in a dramatic decider to lift the Tommy Moore Cup for the second time.

Eanna Burke stunner seals second All-Ireland Club SHC triumph for St Thomas’

Burke, whose dad John led the team including six of his sons to triumph in 2013, acknowledged that matching his father’s feat had been his intention ever since he became club manager:

“To be honest, I took this job to try to get another All-Ireland, that was the main target.

“People maybe thought I was mad but I knew the calibre of player – there were still younger guys coming up and there was plenty in the tank so thankfully we got over it.”

Burke continued St Thomas’s dominance in Galway, helping them to win an astonishing six county crowns in row from 2018 onwards, but it looked like they were not going to translate that into another All-Ireland.

St Thomas’s Conor Cooney celebrates
St Thomas’s Conor Cooney celebrates after the AIB GAA All Ireland Snr club Hurling Championship final at Crooke Park , Dublin 21/01/2024. Picture Mark Marlow

Hammered by Ballyhale Shamrocks in the 2019 decider, St Thomas’ then suffered a series of semi-final losses – but Burke believes those drove them on to keep going in Galway:

“Yeah, absolutely. I said to the lads, ‘If we’d won a second All-Ireland earlier would we have won as many Galway titles? Maybe not, maybe lads would have been satisfied.

“It was absolutely the main target for us to get back here. Lads knew they were good enough.”

However, Burke confessed that self-belief was severely tested last year after Antrim and Ulster champs Dunloy saw them off in the 2023 semi-final:

“We were very disappointed coming out of Croke Park last year. Being realistic at the time, a few days later a lot of us thought, would we get the opportunity to get back here again? And we honestly probably said ‘no’.

“But after a few weeks we dusted ourselves down, got back in the gym, and just kept going. We said we’d see how the Galway championship went, do what we had to do. Getting out of the Galway championship is the hardest thing first.”

Burke pointed to having a stronger hand to deal with this time around, saying: “Obviously having all the guys back fit, there were a few guys missing last year, having a full squad to pick from was a big difference as well.”

His brother David’s return after remarkable recovery from a cruciate ligament injury was also a factor, the midfielder putting in a ‘Man of the Match’ display, although in typical sibling style Kenneth wasn’t gushing in his praise:

“He played well. Coming back from injury and not that much game-time in the legs, he was flagging a bit there at the end – but you had to leave him out there because he has such experience.”

St Thomas’s overall experience in recent years has been tough, but they produced the goods when it mattered: “You perform well some days, some days you don’t. We’re not stupid, we know that happens. We’re delighted to perform [in the final].”

At last, with job done, Kenneth Burke allowed himself a smile, knowing that the questions had been answered, the doubts ended:

“It’s special. We didn’t really talk about it, you’re just a cog in the wheel – but we can talk about it now. It’s special, it’ll be there forever, we’re delighted.”