Croker glory beckons for O’Loughlin’s!

Owen Wall can revel in Croker

St Thomas’ out to stop Noreside’s finest in decider



AIB All –Ireland Senior Hurling Club Championship Final

Sunday, 1:30pm, Páirc an Chrócaigh,

Referee: Sean Stack

(Extra Time if necessary)

O’Loughlin Gaels Vs St Thomas’

When O’Loughlin Gaels run out at Croker on Sunday afternoon, they will know that they are just one win from greatness and being crowned All-Ireland senior hurling champions. Standing in their way will be the challenge of Galway champions St Thomas’, a formidable opponent to say the least. It has the makings of a great contest and one that the Kilkenny champions will have been prepping for since they reached the decider following a titanic tussle with Ruairí Óg Cushendall in Pairc Tailteann last month.

That narrowest of victories over the Ulster champions will no doubt stand to Brian Hogan’s outfit in the heat of battle at headquarters this weekend. The Loughs have shown on several occasions this season that they will battle to the long whistle and do what it takes to get over the line, and while their management and supporters might like things to be a little more comfortable on Sunday, this decider could go right to the wire.

The St John’s Park side have more miles in the legs as they approach Sunday’s final, having navigated a tricky Kilkenny campaign that saw them take the scalp of Shamrocks Ballyhale by the bare minimum, to claim the county title. Before gaining the chance to pit their wits against the most successful team in club hurling, there were two hard-fought battles with both Mullinavat (2-point win) and Bennettsbridge (3-point win). As Gaels will tell you, there’s nothing easy won on Noreside.

Having claimed the Tom Walsh for the 5th time, O’Loughlin’s entered the provincial arena to go in search of a third Leinster title. First up for Brian Hogan’s charges was a trip to Netwatch Cullen Park to take on Carlow side, Mount Leinster Rangers. This was probably the most straight forward of all their games to date as they punished MLR’s rustiness and inactivity to win by 9-points. The quarter-final win set up an intriguing clash with the Faithful County’s finest, Kilcormac–Killoughey, again another road trip, this time to Glenisk O’Connor Park. The Offaly side put in a decent shift but fell five points short as they sought to halt the Loughs train.

This semi-final victory saw the Mark Bergin led side head into the O’Neill Cup decider to tackle Dublin champs, Na Fianna. The Men from the Captial were in their first ever provincial final and had eyes on Leinster glory, and in truth it was a game that ebbed and flowed in both directions with only 1-point separating the sides at the long whistle. Mark Bergin was in tremendous form hitting 0-11, while Paddy Deegan’s radar was certainly in, the county man hitting 0-5 from play in a storming display at Croke Park. Once again, the battling qualities of Hogan’s men was on show for all to see as O’Loughlin’s earned provincial title number three and their first since 2010.

A pre-Christmas cracker with Ruairí Óg Cushendall in Pairc Tailteann followed. Despite the phenomenal efforts of an Antrim great in Neil McManus, a Sean Bolger major and a stunning late effort from tight to the sideline from rising star David Fogarty saw the Kilkenny men secure a berth in the All-Ireland decider for just the second time in their history. Their first visit to Croker for the biggest game in club hurling ended in a sickening defeat to Clarinbridge of Galway. Let’s hope there’s a little revenge brewing as they go head-to-head with another Connacht outfit on Sunday. Captain Mark Bergin is a survivor of that St Patrick’s Day final at headquarters and notched 0-6 as his side were eclipsed by a stunning performance from player-of-the-match, Mark Kerins which saw the westerner’s home by 12 points in the end. Loughs netminder, Stephen Murphy will hope to banish that painful defeat and stand firm in the face of a quality St Thomas’s attacking unit.

Kenneth Burke’s team have been around the block themselves and are one of Galway’s chief protagonists on the hurling front. Having claimed a maiden All-Ireland title in 2013 with a 2-point victory over Kilcormac-Killoughey, the Toms have suffered much hurling heartbreak in the intervening years, none more so that when a magical stroke of the hurl from TJ Reid in Semple stadium in the 2022 semi-final broke the hearts of the Peterswell-Kilchreest-Castledaly men.

The Burke-backed Toms completed a 6-in-a-row of county titles back in late October when they outfought Turloughmore to claim the title in Pearse Stadium. There were just the six Burke’s on playing duty that day, plus manager Kenneth directing operations from the sideline. Star man that day was Éanna Burke who notched 2-2. That victory which matched their opponents’ feats of the 1960’s and due to the continued absence of a Connacht senior hurling championship, saw the red and blue-clad side advance to an All-Ireland semi-final, where they would take-on the much-vaunted Munster champions, Ballygunner.

2017 All-Ireland winning Galway captain, David Burke gave his side a boost by being able to start the game as the veteran had battled back from a nasty cruciate injury to play a small cameo in the win over Turloughmore, but had plenty of time in between that win, and the last-four clash with Darragh O’Sullivan’s Waterford kingpins. If their county title was hard-won, the encounter with the bookie’s favourites for the national title went the distance – and then some!

Penalties were required to separate the two sides, and it was the South Galway outfit that came out the right side of that particular Lottery. The star of the show in O’Moore Park that day was Conor Cooney who hit 0-14 of his side’s 1-23. The stalwart Galway attacking gem was almost flawless from the placed ball, some of which were in poor enough conditions.

O’Loughlin’s will know that if they cough up easy free’s that Cooney will more than likely punish them. Eanna Burke’s potential battle with Huw Lawlor could be a real humdinger. Eanna will be one of the biggest threats to Brian Hogan’s hopes of seeing his captain lift the Tommy Moore Cup on Sunday afternoon. Burke’s dovetailing with Conor Cooney, swapping from the edge of the square to the centre-forward position is something that seems to really suit and work for this group of Tribesmen.

Cian Mahony is a tight marker who could be given the job of shackling Owen Wall at the Jones’s Road venue. His full-back and very experienced leader, Fintan Burke did a decent job on Ballygunner’s Kevin Mahony in the semi-final win and you can bet that he will guard the square with his life. In the half-back line, Shane Cooney and Cathal Burke will look to keep things tight and drive their side forward when possible. The return to action of David Burke is definitely a huge plus for the Toms and Cian Loy and Jack Nolan will need to match the physicality that will come their way on Sunday.

For Brian Hogan’s side, his county men, Mikey Butler, Huw Lawlor, Paddy Deegan and Conor Heary are vital cogs in the O’Loughlin’s machine. Each of these classy hurlers has contributed massively to their side’s success so far this season. Heary in particular, has served notice to county manager Derek Lyng of his outstanding abilities and all-action work-rate. The half-back trio of Paddy Deegan, Jordan Molloy and David Fogarty have excelled in this campaign. While defensively strong, their talent really lights up when crossing the halfway line and joining the attacking menace in front of them. These three Loughs will make their men work equally as hard tracking them as the other way round!

Owen Wall and Sean Bolger have caused havoc in many previous games this season, and while not always top of the scoring charts, their tireless work-rate and space creation allows others to profit. The same can be said of Eoin O’Shea and Paddy Butler, the latter who was sprung from the bench against Cushendall last time out.

The Hebron Road sides ability to influence things from their bench is a great asset at this level. Luke Hogan, Conor Kelly and the likes of Jamie Ryan can all influence matters when fresh legs are called for. Indeed, Luke Hogan caused lots of problems for the opposition defenders in the semi-final.

Mark Bergin and Stephen Murphy are proud clubmen and will be determined to right the wrongs of that 2011 defeat on Sunday. Let’s hope Hogans heroes are returning to Noreside clutching the Tommy Moore Cup and continuing Kilkenny’s dominance in club hurling. ‘Hon the Loughs.


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