1. Romance and novelty in Galway
The success of St Thomas in yesterday’s county final ticked plenty boxes in the classic tale of a charming club triumph.
The first ever senior title in their first ever senior decider for the small rural club formed in 1968 when teams from Peterswell and Kilchreest amalgamated.
A victory founded on family values. There were six Burke brothers on the pitch by the final whistle – Kenneth (28), Sean (25), David (22), Cathal (20), Darragh (19) and Eanna (17) – with their father John at the helm as team manager.
Other families pitched in as well in the shape of the two Cooney’s, Conor and Shane, two Skehill’s, Patrick and Sean, and two Murray’s, Richie and Robert.
One of the club’s most famous sons, Galway boss Anthony Cunningham, may be domiciled in Roscommon these days but he was back amongst St Thomas followers savouring this triumph.
For four of the St Thomas team – David and Darragh Burke, Conor Cooney and James Regan – it was a sweet success after the gut-wrenching disappointment of last September’s All-Ireland final defeat with Galway. And Richie Murray, who spent a decade in the Galway senior ranks, was the scoring hero as he bagged a hat-trick.
Their victory is part of a wonderful narrative that will now continue until next February as they look forward to the All-Ireland series.
2. Crossmaglen Rangers exorcise a ghost
It’s difficult to quibble with Crossmaglen Rangers record since 1996 in accumulating 16 county titles, 9 Ulster crowns and 6 All-Ireland triumphs.
Yet they sought to redress one minor statistic in yesterday’s Ulster semi-final clash in Clones. Crossmaglen had met Errigal Ciaran four times before yesterday, including a memorable three-match saga in 2002, but they had failed to win any of those games.
They halted that trend with a typically composed and professional Crossmaglen performance as they grew into the game and squeezed the life out of their Tyrone opponents. Any doubts that lingered about their form after the Armagh championship have been firmly dispelled over the last eight days as they surmounted the challenges of St Eunan’s and Errigal Ciaran.
The dominant displays of Stephen Kernan, Paul McKeown, Jamie Clarke and Oisin McConville explains why it is the South Armagh club remain favourites to progress to capture Ulster and All-Ireland crowns.
3. Dr Crokes march powerfully on
Another side that hold lofty ambitions in this year’s club championship are the Kerry champions Dr Crokes. Even before their Kerry county final meeting with Dingle, manager Noel O’Leary was talking about Dr Crokes quest to get to Croke Park.
At this stage they will feel that have visited the school of hard knocks frequently enough with their 2007 All-Ireland final loss to Crossmaglen, the Munster final defeat to Nemo Rangers in January 2011 and the All-Ireland semi-final reversal against Crossmaglen last February.
After yesterday’s dismissal of Clonmel Commercials, who were admittedly hampered by the loss of key figures, Dr Crokes are in good shape. They emerged from a battle in their quarter-final win over Kilmurry-Ibrickane before winning the semi-final with style.
Major challenges lie ahead of course as the number of contenders are whittled down and travelling to Cork to try to break down Castlehaven will be a tough task in the Munster final. Yet their recent games entitles them to feel optimistic.
4. Kilcormac-Killoughey maintain the Faithful’s competitive edge
The record of Offaly hurling club teams over the past two decades is framed by the achievements of Birr. Between 1991 and 2008, Birr managed to scoop up titles in Offaly (12), Leinster (7) and All-Ireland (4). In addition they managed to reach another three provincial finals during that time frame and that reaffirmed their status as the best club side the county has ever produced.
Yet in recent years other Offaly clubs have got in on the act. Tullamore won their first county title in 45 years in 2009 and went on to reach the Leinster final where they were bettered by Ballyhale Shamrocks. Coolderry last year claimed their first Leinster crown with a final success against Oulart-the-Ballagh.
And yesterday Kilcormac-Killoughey joined that group of Offaly clubs by reaching their first ever Leinster final by virtue of a four-point semi-final success against Laois side Rathdowney-Errill.
It’s already been a memorable year for the side managed by former county legend Danny Owens and after booking their spot in the Leinster decider on December 2nd, the good news continues.
5. St Gall’s are toppled in an upset
This season’s Ulster club championship was shaping up in recent weeks as one which would lead the way to a final battle between the giant forces of Crossmaglen Rangers and St Gall’s. At least one of that pair have featured in each of the last nine Ulster club finals and they have played out some fierce battles in recent years themselves.
Crossmaglen lived up to their end of the bargain with that six-point success over Errigal Ciaran yesterday and St Gall’s looked set to join them when they were three points and a man up with ten minutes left against Kilcoo.
Yet the Down champions launched a stunning comeback to claim a two-point success in the Athletic Grounds. Losing in that manner will haunt St Gall’s, a team who set themselves high targets. But success was a testament to the spirit of a Kilcoo side who will be enthused by the upcoming prospect of their first ever Ulster final appearance.
6. Castlehaven survive a scare
County standings do not translate to the club football championship. Sides from Westmeath, Roscommon, Antrim, Clare, Roscommon, Wicklow and Carlow have all featured at the All-Ireland senior semi-final stage over the past 12 championships.
It has been a heartening development and has lead to clubs from established counties having to be on their guard. Football games between Cork and Waterford representatives generally follow a certain pattern yet Stradbally nearly bucked that trend in yesterday’s Munster semi-final against Castlehaven.
Travelling to West Cork failed to deter the Waterford champions as they bossed the first-half and were still in the ascendancy in the final quarter. Conceding a late goal to Seanie Cahalane when the ball slipped agonisingly from the grasp of goalkeeper Oliver Costelloe proved the critical moment and too great a blow for Stradbally to absorb.
Castlehaven prevailed by a point and survived a major score. They now proceed to a final meeting with Dr Crokes, a game they will enter as underdogs.
Yet these hard-fought club victories are character-building exercises. Just ask Dr Crokes who had an anxious afternoon themselves in Quilty in Kilmurry-Ibrickane in their quarter-final a couple of weeks ago.