Mikey Butler and Evan Duggan celebrating their weekend semi-final wins. INPHO
club call

5 talking points after a dramatic weekend of GAA club hurling action

A Galway-Kilkenny senior final is in store in January.

1. A momentous win for St. Thomas

The modern kings of Galway hurling enjoyed their greatest moment in the All-Ireland series since their maiden final win in 2013. St Thomas were cast as outsiders entering this game, such was the red-hot nature of Ballygunner’s form, but they rose to the challenge in magnificent fashion. The victory was laced with drama given the penalty shootout that saw Evan Duggan prove the match-winner and the normal time finale when Conor Cooney’s unbreakable composure saw him slot the frees to tie the game.

Yet the shining characteristic of this win was the aggression and energy St Thomas served up, frequently turning Ballygunner over and denying the Waterford kingpins the space to weave the patterns that have undone so many teams in recent times. It will be a victory that St Thomas will cherish given their All-Ireland semi-final travails.

2022 saw them lose twice in such encounters, hearts broken by a last-gasp TJ Reid goal for Ballyhale and an underwhelming showing against Dunloy, this time last year. Throw in semi-final defeats to Ballyea in 2017 and Borris-Ileigh in 2020, and a hammering at the hands of Ballyhale in the 2019 final, and St Thomas were seemingly locked into a cycle of frustration in the national arena.

They broke free on Saturday night in Portlaoise in some style after an epic match.

darragh-burke-and-conor-cooney-celebrate-after-the-game St. Thomas’ Darragh Burke and Conor Cooney celebrate after the game. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

2. O’Loughlin Gaels master a tight game again

Once more when teams were locked on the scoreboard in injury-time, O’Loughlin Gaels found a way to conjure up a match-winning score. Paddy Deegan in the Kilkenny final, Mark Bergin in the Leinster final, and now David Fogarty in the All-Ireland semi-final, the latest addition to their ranks of scoring stars.

Claiming a third one-point win, coupled with negotiating testing trips to Carlow and Tullamore, offers proof of how O’Loughlin Gaels are a battle-hardened side. They coped with a terrific start from a Cushendall team that notched 1-4 inside the opening six minutes, refusing to panic and reeling them in.

It was an enthralling match, Mark Bergin man-of-the-match in helping nudge O’Loughlin Gaels over the line. The previous time the Kilkenny city club were in an All-Ireland final, Bergin shot six points in a 2011 defeat to Clarinbridge. He will hope for better against Galway opposition in the New Year.

conor-heary-and-jack-nolan-celebrate O’Loughlin Gaels players Conor Heary and Jack Nolan celebrate. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

3. Favourites Ballygunner exit

Losing an All-Ireland semi-final is not a new experience for Ballygunner, this was their second defeat at this stage in the space of 12 months, while a bunch of their players were involved against Ballyhale in 2019.

But it’s hard to think of a more sickening defeat for them and one that will be more difficult to process. Their penalty shootout loss saw Dessie Hutchinson and Billy O’Keeffe denied with their strikes, an outcome all the more galling because Hutchinson hit 1-4 during the game and O’Keeffe had been his team’s saviour moments earlier with a magnificent point under pressure to tie the teams at the close of extra-time.

Ballygunner were rescued by that intervention, but were left with regrets that they could not build on two splendid strikes to the net early on from Patrick Fitzgerald and Hutchinson. Three times in injury-time at the end of normal time, they forged ahead before being pegged back by the determined spirit that St Thomas possessed.

It all added up to a wounding exit from the All-Ireland series for a team who had blitzed all before them on the county and provincial stages. After winning four of the last five Munster titles, converting that tally into just a single All-Ireland final appearance will hurt them.

shane-osullivan-consoles-dessie-hutchinson-after-missing-a-penalty Ballygunner’s Shane O'Sullivan consoles Dessie Hutchinson after missing a penalty. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

4. Regrets for Cushendall

After the captivating fare served up in Portlaoise on Saturday night, yesterday in Navan was a hard act to follow. But the second All-Ireland semi-final proved just as compelling a watch, largely helped by the stunning start from Cushendall that ignited the contest. The failure to build on that scoring spree and land a place in the final will cause pain for the Antrim men.

Back at the site of their landmark win at this stage over Galway’s Sarsfields in 2016, they could not grab another victory and instead suffered a defeat by the same margin as they did in 2019 against St Thomas. This one will be harder to take, given the storming displays produced by the likes of Paddy Burke, Eoghan Campbell and Neil McManus.

They left a few scores behind them in the opening period and more critically, accuracy eluded them with seven second-half shots, including three-in-a-row at a vital phase in the final quarter.

joseph-mclaughlin-dejected Cushendall's Joseph McLaughlin dejected. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

5. Cork-Kilkenny dominance of lower grades continues

There will be a familiar theme to All-Ireland club intermediate and junior hurling final day next month, with a Cork-Kilkenny double-bill in store.

East Cork neighbours Castlelyons and St Catherine’s will both be represented, taking on the Kilkenny duo of Thomastown and Tullogher-Rosbercon. The Cork paiir survived tough tests against Connacht opponents on Saturday. Anthony Spillane contributed the vital goal that broke open the intermediate game as Castlelyons saw off Mayo’s Tooreen, while St Catherine’s edged off Sligo’s Easkey in the junior game.

Yesterday, Thomastown’s intermediates breezed past Donegal’s Setanta by 33 points, while Tullogher-Rosbercon had 15 points to spare over Monaghan’s Castleblayney. Cork and Kilkenny clubs have monopolised these two grades. They have won ten of the intermediate titles between them and 16 at junior. This will be the fifth Cork-Kilkenny meeting in an intermediate final and eighth in a junior decider.

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