Gort 2-12 St Thomas 2-10
A BITING wind and sub-zero temperatures greeted a large crowd at Clarinbridge on Sunday for the 2009 U-21A Galway hurling final between neighbours and keen rivals Gort and St Thomas’. The irony of the fact that the 2008 champions, Sarsfields’, had the cup for only seven days, having been successful a week earlier, was not lost on supporters of both sides.
Gort, who were U-16A champions in 2004, were taking on a St Thomas’ side that boasted a number of young players who have featured on county underage teams this season, such as David, Cathal and Bernard Burke, Conor Cooney and James Regan.
Gort, for their part, started as warm favourites, with Aidan Harte, Brian Regan, Sylvie Óg Linnane, Richie Cummins and Greg Lally in their line-up.
The town side started the game aided by the strong breeze and Keith Killiea opened the scoring in the first minute, with Conor Cooney responding for St Thomas’ after three minutes.
Both Gort goals came in the opening half and came about as much from defensive errors by the opposition rearguard, as good play from the eventual winners. The first was scored after five minutes by Gavin Lally after the ball was lost in front of the St Thomas goal. Conor Cooney and James Regan rallied their side with two points, to leave the minimum between the sides after nine minutes. Winning All-Ireland minor captain Richie Cummins, who finished the game with 1-7, began his scoring with a 10th minute free, before man of the hour, Jason Grealish, scored a wonder point at the end of the first quarter. Gearóid O’Donnell, who was labouring with injury coming into the game, was replaced by Keelan Higgins.
Richie Cummins struck for 1-2 between the 15th and 20th minutes, as Kevin Cunningham managed a solitary response for the side from Kilchreest, Castledaly and Peterswell. Aidan Harte and Albert Mullins worked well to set up Cummins for the goal, which left Gort 2-5 to 0-4 clear. St Thomas, despite being well in arrears on the scoreboard, had as much and, at times, more possession than Gort but overcarrying, wasteful shooting and trouble under the dropping ball in the backs let down their overall performance.
Bernard Burke and Cummins (2) rounded off the first-half scoring, as a vital save from James Regan by Kris Finnegan in the 28th minute had a big impact on the final result. Gort were seemingly comfortable 2-7 to 0-5 leaders at the interval.
St Thomas’ required goals to haul themselves back into contention and delivered their first five minutes into the new half, when a huge long-range free by David Burke went all the way to the Gort net. Richie Cummins and Kevin Cunningham exchanged scores in the 38th minute, as Kris Finnegan again denied James Regan a goal.
Gort were defending well but conceded ground and possession to their opponents, who failed to turn this into scores. James Regan narrowed the Gort lead to four points in the 41st minute. Five minutes elapsed without a score, before two inspirational solo efforts from Sylvie Óg Linnane and Keith Killilea, as well as a third Gort score from Aidan Harte, appeared to settle the issue after 50 minutes, when Gort had a 2-11 to 1-7 lead. With four minutes of normal time to play, the score was unchanged but St Thomas’ were the dominant side at this time.
Conor Cooney struck over a brace of points in a minute. Patrick Skehill sent in a long-range free, which was doubled to the net by David Burke. Gort were now nervous two-point leaders deep into injury time. One upfield foray resulted in a free, converted by Cummins. One similar last-gasp attack by St Thomas’ resulted in a late free sent over by David Burke but Gort held on to capture the crown last won in 1980 and 1981 by squads, whose management team included five-time winning minor manager, Matt Murphy.
Best for the new champions on Sunday were Kris Finnegan, Brian Regan, Greg Lally, Jason Grealish, Keith Killilea, Sylvie Óg Linnane, Aidan Harte and Richie Cummins. St Thomas’ best included David Burke, who had a storming second half, Cathal Burke, Paul Caulfield, Patrick Skehill Conor Cooney, James Regan, Kevin Cunningham and Bernard Burke.
After the game, the U-21A hurling cup was presented to Aidan Harte by recently elected Galway hurling board chairman, Joe Byrne. It was a family occasion for the Harte family, as the team manager was Aidan’s father Josie, a well-known Gort publican.
Gort: Kris Finnegan; Michael Cummins, Brian Regan, Conor Helebert; Barry Cahill, Greg Lally, Jason Grealish (0-1); Keith Killilea (0-2), Sylvie Óg Linnane (0-1); Albert Mullins, Aidan Harte (0-1), Gearóid O’Donnell; Richie Cummins (1-7), Gavin Lally (1-0), Mark McMahon.
Sub: Keelan Higgins for O’Donnell (inj).
St Thomas: Patrick Skehill; Paul Caulfield, Donal Cooney, Seán Skehill; Adrian Skelly, David Burke (2-1), Cathal Burke; Conor Cooney (0-4), Cian Kelly; James Regan (0-2), Kevin Cunningham (0-2), Bernard Burke (0-1); Justin Cunningham, Gerry Murray, Anthony Kelly.
Referee: Gerry O’Donoghue (Kilnadeema-Leitrim).