The Irish World Senior Hurling Championship Final Preview
By Damian Dolan
It’s five years since St Gabriels were last crowned London senior champions, and that’s just too long for captain Neil Rogers.
Rogers has been around long enough to remember more silverware laden times. In his first season, in 2012, he helped the club to title success, and they followed it up the next year.
Martin Finn was still leading the line in those heady days, and there was also an All-Ireland Club IHC final appearance at Croke Park in 2013. There have been some leaner years since, however.
Gabriels lost out to Robert Emmetts in the 2015 and 2016 finals, but last year’s 11-point semi-final defeat to the Emmetts was a turning point.
Rogers concedes it’s a defeat which “hurt” and one which prompted some soul-searching and a change in the management team – Tom Lally, Eoin Kelly and Kieran Flaherty coming in.
“To get such a beating in a semi-final and to be not even competitive was very demoralising,” Rogers told the Irish World.
“It brought us back down to earth and drilled into us that if you want to achieve something you’ve got to work for it.”
For Rogers, Kilburn and Emmetts have “set the standard” over the last couple of years. The target for Gabriels this year was just to get back to being “competitive”.
They’ve certainly been that. With “ground to make up” on Kilburn and Emmetts, the hard work had started earlier than normal this year for Gabriels.
Winning the Ryan Cup (under its new blitz format) and reaching the Division 1 League final offered signs of encouragement, only for Kilburn to give them a bloody nose in the latter.
“Kilburn gave us a good beating – they beat us quite comfortably. 3-17 to 0-15 and it probably could have been more,” said Rogers.
“That was a big eye-opener; we went into that game on the back of a few decent league results and we thought we were getting back to a competitive level.
“We were probably a bit naïve in how we defended and set up. But we learnt from it.”
They certainly did. Their first half performance against reigning champions Kilburn Gaels in the senior championship ‘Round Robin’ was arguably the best 30 minutes of hurling in London this year.
Firing over scores from everywhere and anywhere, Gabriels flew into a 1-9 to 0-4 lead, even before Vincent Staunton’s sending off for Kilburn.
Despite Rogers’ protests that not too much should be read into those 30 minutes, it’s hard not to wax lyrical. Gabriels were mightily impressive.
“It’s probably the best half of hurling we’ve played all year. The lads were exceptionally good that day. Everything we hit went over the bar, which is unlikely to happen again,” said Rogers.
New additions such as Shane Lawless (Kilnadeema/Leitrim, Co Galway), Stephen Lohan (Blarney, Co Cork), Oisin Royston (Portumna, Co Galway), Lee Murphy (Padraig Pearses, Co Galway), Conor Helebert (Gort, Co Galway) and Brian Hickey (Kilconieron, Co Galway, have complemented the existing ranks of Michael Ivors, David Nolan and Rogers himself.
It was a hugely significant win for Gabriels.
Emmetts, though, brought them back down to earth in Round 5. Gabriels led by 0-9 to 1-2 having again started like a train. Emmetts were clinging on, but back they came, blunting the Gabriels attack, to win by 1-15 to 0-15.
“We battled fairly well, but Emmetts just had so much quality,” said Rogers.
“They’re bringing four or five lads off the bench who were training with London. If you hold three or four of them, they’ve another three or four they can bring on, which is the luxury they have.”
They booked their place in Sunday’s final with victory over a Sean Treacys side which had nothing but pride to play for. But they showed plenty of that, with Gabriels only securing the 16-point winning margin they needed in injury-time. Luke Hands with the crucial score.
“Fair play to Treacys they kept going right to the end. They certainly weren’t giving us anything easy, and that’s what you want,” said Rogers.
“You want teams going hard for the full game and being honest. They certainly did that.”
While Gabriel’s ‘bar’ may have been set no further than being competitive, they’re now in a county final and they don’t come along every year.
Rogers doesn’t need to be told how quickly “the wheel can turn” in London. Who knows what next year may bring. Sunday, therefore, is an opportunity to be taken.
“We’ll be aiming to set as high a tempo as we can and hopefully that can lead to a good start, which we’ve got in one or two of the games. And then, who knows?,” he said.