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St Thomas' sweating on fitness of key forward ahead of All-Ireland final against Kilkenny aristocrats

Kenneth Burke, the older brother of star midfielder David, represented Galway between 2003 and 2008.

Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

Kevin O’Brien reports from Parnell Park

THE BETTING FOR the All-Ireland SHC club final makes interesting reading. 

Ballyhale Shamrocks, the six-time All-Ireland champions, are available at the sort odds of 1/3 with most bookmakers to add another Tommy Moore Cup to their collection.

Galway hotshots St Thomas’, who needed a 65th-minute winner from corner-back David Sherry to overcome Antrim side Cushendall, will head to the St Patrick’s Day decider as 2/1 outsiders. 

It’s no major surprise, given the Kilkenny aristocrats are the most decorated club team in history. They haven’t been beaten in a final since their loss to Blackrock in 1979. That was Ballyhale’s first appearance on club hurling’s showpiece day and they’ve won on every trip to the decider since then, claiming victory in 1981, 1984, 1990, 2007, 2010 and 2015.

St Thomas’ only lifted their first Galway title in 2012, but their record since then has been exemplary for a club that had no real tradition of success. In the first campaign they made it out of the county seven years ago, the south Galway club went all the way in the competition and secured All-Ireland glory.

It’s funny how a small victory at underage level can set a club on the path of domination. It’s accepted locally that an U12 Galway B county title win in 2002 was the catalyst for the success that was to follow for the club.

St Thomas’ draws from around 200 houses and they’ve brought through an extraordinary set of players that are dominated by two families – the Burkes and Cooneys. Seven Burkes and three Cooneys started yesterday’s semi-final in Parnell Park. The golden generation includes two sets of brothers and two cousins.

For their maiden All-Ireland success in 2013, 25 of St Thomas’ 33-man squad was under the age of 23. Most of them came from that U12 side 11 years earlier. Nine of the 17 players who featured in the All-Ireland final six years ago started against Cushendall yesterday.

In contrast, Ballyhale have lost 16 of their squad from the 2015 All-Ireland victory to retirement.

Two of the mainstays for St Thomas’ have been David Burke and Conor Cooney. The pair helped spearhead Galway’s All-Ireland victory in 2017 and remain among Micheal Donoghue’s most trusted lieutenants. 

But the beauty of this St Thomas’ team is they don’t rely on their county men to lead the charge. Burke and Cooney both played their part in the win, but so too did Darragh Burke with his six-point haul and James Regan who picked off a brace from midfield.

David Burke David Burke after the game. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Then there were the seven points that Eanna Burke, Bernard Burke and Kenneth Burke contributed in attack between them.

A decent part of Kevin Lally’s thoughts on the five-week run-in to the final may centre around corner-forward Kenneth Burke and his race to recover from the injury that forced him out of the Cushendall game after 37 minutes.

Kenneth, an older brother of Tribe midfielder David, was carried off with what looked to be at the very least a hamstring tear – at worst it was torn off the bone. Burke couldn’t put any weight on his foot as he left the field and Lally admitted afterwards that the prognosis didn’t look good.

“I haven’t spoken to the doctor yet but it looks like he has a bad hamstring injury,” he said. 

With the Ballyhale clash looming on 17 March, Burke will do well to recover from a torn hamstring in that short period, although it’s possible an injection could get him through the 60 minutes.

Either way, St Thomas’ will be sweating on the fitness of their talented attacker, who turns 35 this year. On the plus side, the man who replaced Burke on Saturday, Damien McGlynn, popped over a score on his introduction and is a good option if the former Galway forward is ruled out.

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Kevin O'Brien

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