By Damian Dolan
Just as it did 12 months ago, Neil Rogers is hoping St Gabriels’ Ryan Cup victory will once again provide a springboard for the senior hurling championship.
Gabriels open the defence of their senior title against Sean Treacys on Thursday (15 August).
The similarities are there. Embracing the new format, Gabriels enjoyed a comfortable victory over Sean Treacys in last year’s Ryan Cup decider, and retained the trophy this year by beating senior new boys Thomas McCurtains.
Although Kilburn Gaels subsequently gave them a bloody nose in the 2018 Division 1 final, Gabriels were by now moving in the right direction, and they hit top form in the championship.
No league final to look forward to this year – defeats to McCurtains, Robert Emmetts and Kilburn Gaels put paid to that – but could Gabriels again be timing their title assault just right?
“Winning it last year got a bit of silverware on the table and that took the pressure off It got us going,” Gabriels manager Neil Rogers told the Irish World.
Recent SHC Finals
2018 St Gabriels 2-17 v 2-11 Robert Emmetts
2017 Kilburn Gaels 1-16 v 0-14 Robert Emmetts
2016 Robert Emmetts 2-13 v 1-12 St Gabriels
2015 Robert Emmetts 3-10 v 1-10 St Gabriels
2014 Kilburn Gaels 4-20 v 0-8 Sean Treacys
2013 St Gabriels 3-16 v 2-5 Brothers Pearse
2012 St Gabriels 1-14 v 2-8 Kilburn Gaels
2011 Robert Emmetts 2-14 v 1-11 St Gabriels
2010 Kilburn Gaels 3-11 v 0-7 Sean Treacys
2009 St Gabriels 3-6 v 1-8 Robert Emmetts
“We enjoyed it again this year and while some teams weren’t at full strength, it was still good.
He added: “We’d a few bad results in the league leading up to it, so we took it seriously and were pleased to win it.”
“It gave us a bit of confidence and training has been going okay since then.”
As defending senior champions, Rogers knows Gabriels are there to be shot at. The lure is to win back-to-back titles – a feat not achieved since Emmetts in 2016 and 2015.
Gabriels did it themselves in 2012 and 2013 – in the middle of which they made it to the All-Ireland club final only to lose out to Clara of Kilkenny.
Rogers was part of that successful Gabriels team, having arrived in London in 2012, but he’s known the tough times too.
“We had a really good team in 2012 and we thought we were going to be at the top for the foreseeable future,” he said.
“But then we had five long years without silverware – in our eyes that was longer that we’d have liked. So you don’t know how things are going to be.”
Captain in 2018, Rogers is in his first year as manager having picked up the baton from Tom Lally, who led Gabriels to the title last year – their first since 2013. The departure of Lally is a “major loss” says Rogers.
“We were at a low ebb going into last year and Tom came in last year and resurrected the whole club,” said the Offaly-native.
“He put different structures in place and we reaped the rewards. It’s going to be hard to replace him.”
Kieran Flaherty remains part of the management set-up, while Eoin Kelly is back in a playing capacity. Rogers is still trying to figure out just how much he’ll feature in a Gabriels jersey.
Elsewhere on the playing front, James Barrett and Michael Ivors have both departed and will be missed.
Amongst those to come in is Daniel Glynn, who won a Roscommon title for Pádraig Pearses two years ago, and has hurled for London and Roscommon in the Christy Ring.
Not since 2005 (Fr Murphy’s) has the senior trophy ended up in the hands of anyone other than Gabriels, Emmetts or Kilburn, but Rogers believes this could be the most competitive and exciting championship in years.
Emmetts have reached the last four finals and have former Warwickshire maestro Tony Joyce on board this year to augment Kevin McMullan.
2017 champions Kilburn have been impressive in the league – despatching Emmetts and Gabriels with ease.
Pearses gave Emmetts a run for their money in the Collins Cup final for a good three quarters of that game, while Sean Treacy have been busy recruiting of late.
“We’ll be hoping to be there or thereabouts again, and so will Kilburn and Emmetts,” said Rogers.
“McCurtains are right there, Pearses made the Collins Cup final and if they get their best 15 out on the pitch, they’re a match for anyone. And Treacys are a good side when championship comes around.”
Winning back-to-back titles will therefore be “very difficult”, but that will be the goal for Gabriels.
“It’s hard for anyone to go back-to-back, but we’ll be trying everything we can to do that,” said Rogers.
“It’s certainly a much bigger challenge to get the hunger levels back, and the fitness levels of last year.”
Whoever reaches the final, though, they will have to go some to surpass last year’s final between Gabriels and Emmetts – the best seen in the county for many a year.
Gabriels will happily settle for a repeat, but the pretenders are sizing up their crown.