Rynagh's hold nerve to end 23-year wait for title
St Rynagh's 2-16 Birr 1-15
They had experienced plenty bad days - including losing eight county finals - since their last championship success in 1993 but it's a fading memory now as St Rynagh's celebrate their return to the Offaly summit.
"We definitely did it the hard way," said manager Francis Forde after a very entertaining contest which swung on St Rynagh's reaction to having an eight-point lead just after half-time cut to a single point in 52nd minute.
With the wind and the momentum behind them, Birr looked well-placed to win the title for the first time since 2008, only to lose their way on the run-in.
In fairness, their path was strewn with obstacles as St Rynagh's redoubled their efforts in an attempt to avoid the misery of a third successive county final defeat.
"Our character has been questioned over the last couple of years and the way the game went today, it was tested more than ever. We kept finding something, just getting that score or two to keep us ahead," said Forde, a contented Galway man amid delighted St Rynagh's fans in an attendance of 6,675.
Birr manager, Paddy Kirwan congratulated St Rynagh's, but not All-Ireland referee Brian Gavin, whose performance he strongly criticised.
"I hate cribbing but I'm disgusted with Brian Gavin. I thought he was very hard on us today. They were getting frees much softer than we were.
"He goes out to ref an inter-county game and he lets everything run - he comes into a club game and if you touch a fella it's a free. So where's the happy medium?" said Kirwan.
Still, he acknowledged that the outcome could have been settled by half-time, at which stage St Rynagh's led by 1-8 to 0-5, having played with the stiff wind.
Joseph O'Connor's 17th-minute goal had put them six points clear and looking as if they would pull away, but Birr hung on defiantly and had lost no further ground by half-time.
That would not have been the case if St Rynagh's radar had been working more efficiently. Instead, they frequently wandered off course, shooting no fewer than 11 wides in first half.
"We were well on top but a combination of wides from us and Birr taking every chance they got left it close enough at half-time," said Forde.
St Rynagh's pushed eight points clear early in the second half before a Birr revival saw them outscore their rivals by 1-8 to 0-4 between the 34th and 52nd minutes.
A goal from Colm Mulrooney - smartly finished after Eoghan Cahill's long-range free cannoned back off an upright - ignited a Birr revival, which looked as if might leave St Rynagh's facing a long winter of regret over their first-half wastefulness.
It called for real nerve and they duly found it after Birr cut the deficit to a point. Points by O'Connor and Garry Conneely re-established their authority, which was sealed with a smashing goal from man of the match Ronan Hughes in the 58th minute.
It took his total to 1-4, all from open play; O'Connor added 1-2 via the same route, while Stephen Wynne and Stephen Quirke added 0-8 between them from frees on a day when the Banagher men just weren't going to take no for an answer.
"The fact that they hadn't won a county title for 23 years was a bit of a burden. It's hard to throw those shackles off but they did it today," said Forde.
He admitted to being very concerned when Birr cut the deficit to a point but felt that the lessons learned over the last few years stood to them.
"You'd hope that would be the case and that they would keep working the ball through the lines."
They did that particularly well in the first half and again late on after Birr had really put it up to them.
While Kirwan's unhappiness with the referee was pretty clear, he accepted that St Rynagh's composure under intense pressure was a key factor.
"They showed their abilities when they had to. It's their fourth final in five years so I'm not going to begrudge them one (win). It's just a pity they didn't wait another year," he said.
Ultimately, Birr could have no complaints. They put themselves in an excellent position heading into the final ten minutes but were unable to maintain momentum once St Rynagh's asserted themselves once again.
The final push was enough to secure St Rynagh's 17th county title and set them off on the Leinster title trail, beginning against Wexford champions, Oulart-The Ballagh on the weekend after next.
"It's not something we thought of but we'll look ahead to it now," said Forde.
Scorers - St Rynagh's: R Hughes 1-4, S Wynne 0-6 (5f), J O'Connor 1-2, S Quirke 0-3 (3f), G Conneely 0-1.
Birr: E Cahill 0-7 (7f), C Mulrooney 1-1, E Nolan 0-3, B Harding, B Whelahan, B Murphy, S Ryan 0-1 each.
St Rynagh's - C Clancy; D Maloney, D Shortt, B Conneely; C Hernon, A Treacy, P Camon; G Kelly, R Hughes; S Dolan, G Conneely, S Wynne; M Maloney, S Quirke, J O'Connor.
Subs: N Wynne for M Maloney (44), G Scales for S Quirke (48), P Quirke for Dolan (63).
Birr - B Mullins; M Verney, P Cleary, E Hayes; B Watkins, D Hayden, S Ryan; B Harding, B Whelahan; C Mulrooney, E Cahill, R Hanniffy; B Murphy, C O'Callaghan, E Nolan.
Subs: S Lonergan for O'Callaghan (41), P Mullins for Whelahan (51), D Watkins for Cahill (62).
Ref - B Gavin (Clara)