By Damian Dolan
Should Sunday’s final (McGovern Park, 2pm) with Robert Emmetts go down to the wire and become a test of character, St Gabriels know they won’t be found wanting.
Asked the question by Kilburn Gaels in their semi-final, the reigning county champions responded like the champions they are.
Scores level deep into injury-time, many teams would have been happy to settle for a draw and take their chances in a replay.
Not so St Gabriels. They dug deep to conjure late scores from Stephen Lohan and David Nolan (free) to set up a repeat of last year’s decider with Robert Emmetts.
“It’s like money in the bank. You have it there and we should be able to draw on it come Sunday,” Nolan told the Irish World.
To come out on the right side of such a game, has served to bring the team even closer together says Nolan, who contributed 0-10 (9f) in the win over Kilburn.
“It’s the spirit of the team that’s important – that’s where matches are won and lost. That’s where you pull it out of the bag,” he said.
“Individuals won’t win you the game, it’s the team. It’s the work you do on a Tuesday and Thursday evening that no one sees.”
Last year, Gabriels rolled into Ruislip having not won the title for five years and having been “well beaten” by Emmetts (1-24 to 0-16) in the semi-finals in 2017. Nolan remembers that defeat all too well.
For Gabriels, the wait for a seventeen senior title had been a long one. But they addressed that with a sparkling victory over Emmetts in last year’s decider.
“It was massive for the club as a whole – it brought a great togetherness. It clicked for us at the right time,” said Nolan, who joined Gabriels from Toomevara and was on the panel when they won their last senior Tipp title in 2008.
But they then bowed out of Connacht on the back of a disappointing 0-18 to 1-13 semi-final loss to Mayo’s Tooreen at Ruislip.
“I think about it fairly regularly. I was probably never as disappointed leaving a hurling field in the whole of my career,” said Nolan.
“We won the county final and took our foot off the gas a little, and then tried to pick it up. But we probably left it a little bit too late.”
“Toureen had obviously put the work in….they’re a fine hurling team. They carried the ball well and they took to the elements better. Our fitness let us down a bit and we ran out of ideas and running.”
Nolan doesn’t pull any punches – it’s a brutally honest assessment. But that loss helped provide the drive for this team – 70-80 per cent of whom remain from last year – to go again.
The overriding feeling after Toureen was that their year had ended prematurely.
“We felt we could have gone on. If we’d won we’d have been in a Connacht final and that’s nothing to be sniffed at,” said Nolan.
Oranmore-Maree awaited in the final and given Gabriels’ Galway connections and history, it was an occasion and an opportunity missed.
“We talked about it early on in the year and then we drew a line in the sand,” he added.
They’ve looked in the mirror more than once since then, however. Especially after a chastening 4-21 to 2-10 league defeat to Kilburn in July.
It was their third loss in the league – after defeats to Emmetts and Thomas McCurtains way back in April.
Back to basics
“We let ourselves down – we went back to basics after that,” said Nolan, who hurled for Tipp at under 14, 15 and 16.
“It just didn’t happen for us. Usually we can never be faulted for a lack of effort, but we didn’t work together and Kilburn took full advantage.
“Whether we won, lost or drew our next games we were going to make sure we gave it our all.”
When the sides met in Round 2 of the championship, Gabriels won by 3-28 to 3-19. Daniel Glynn scoring a hat-trick and Brian Hickey, Paddy Naughton and Andrew Curtin all in good scoring form.
McCurtains and Pearse’s then felt the back-lash of Gabriels’ Round 3 defeat to Emmetts, as Gabriels eased into the semi-finals.
For reasons Nolan still can’t fathom, Emmetts were just that bit “sharper” and “hungrier” on the day.
“All credit to them, they hurled well,” he says.
But it’s not lost on Nolan that Emmetts beat Gabriels in last year’s group stage (1-15 to 0-15), only for Gabriels to come out on top in the final. For Nolan, Sunday will all come down to who performs on the day.
“You’ve 19 or 20 lads [on both teams] who are going to play a part, but it’s the small individual battles that end up winning a game,” he said.
“If you’ve 10 or 12 lads who win their individual battle then you’re going to be hard to beat.
“They’re a very good team; like ourselves they’ve got plenty of good individuals and they hurl well together as a team.
“It all makes for a very good final.”
If it’s half as good as last year’s, we’re in for a treat.