Coolderry ready to lift Faithful -- Martin
TRADITION and the memory of past glories can inspire the present generation, which is one reason Offaly hurling legend Damien Martin has the utmost respect for Loughgiel ahead of this afternoon's All-Ireland Club SHC final.
Martin doesn't take much prompting to delve into the memory bank and bring to the forefront of his mind the one championship which eluded him in an honours-laden career -- the All-Ireland club title.
Mind you, he's not complaining. Martin's career lasted a long time, and included 13 county hurling championship medals and three Leinster club titles with St Rynagh's.
At county level, between his debut in 1964 and the end of his inter-county career in 1987, Martin featured in the amazing Leinster breakthrough side of 1980 and Offaly's first All-Ireland hurling victory in 1981.
He also played in the Centenary All-Ireland final in 1984, and got a second Liam MacCarthy Cup memento, this time as sub 'keeper, in 1985. In all he won four Leinster medals.
And let's not forget that in 1971, the year the All Stars were inaugurated, he became Offaly's first hurling winner of this prestigious award.
So, it's fair to say, Martin knows a thing or two about barrier-breaking and going into new territory -- just as the Coolderry hurlers are doing today after winning the club's first provincial title and defeating Galway's Gort in the All-Ireland semi-final.
But he also keenly appreciates the threat posed by Loughgiel, who remain the only Ulster club to have gate-crashed the illustrious list of national club hurling success stories, and Martin remembers being on the wrong end of that statistic in 1983.
St Rynagh's were not supposed to be in the decider that year, despite beating Galway's Kiltormer in the semi-final.
On the scoreline, the Offaly champions won by 2-8 to 0-8, but it was a rough, tough encounter and four men -- two from each side -- were sent off.
And when it was pointed out that one of the Offaly players who had been dismissed actually stayed on the pitch for seven minutes afterwards, the issue went to the Games Administration Committee. They decided the match should be awarded to Kiltormer, but on appeal to the Central Council, the decision was that Declan Fogarty, the player involved, had unwittingly stayed on the pitch.
The Council ruled on March 25, 1983, that St Rynagh's should play Loughgiel, conquerors of Moycarkey-Borris, in the final. The off-field drama meant the game wasn't played until April 17 at Croke Park and it ended in a draw -- 2-5 for St Rynagh's to 1-8 for Loughgiel. The Ulster club won the replay at Casement Park a week later by 2-12 to 1-12.
"There's no doubt we fancied our chances, but I wouldn't say we were over-confident," said Martin.
"The first game was in Croke Park and no doubt about it, we came home from there thinking we had blown it. We felt we should have won that first match, but in the game in Belfast there was only one team in it. They beat us off the park."
In hindsight, Martin felt the delay due to appeals and so on regarding the semi-final didn't help St Rynagh's, although he appreciates Loughgiel also had a similar delay.
"That long wait certainly took its toll big time on us. It affected training and everything. Probably part of our downfall was we never stopped playing with Offaly in the league," he said.
"We hurled with Offaly all the time we were waiting for the decision about the final, and it wasn't the best preparation for the club. Nowadays they don't play for the county when the club is involved in an All-Ireland semi-final or final."
And so to St Patrick's Day 2012. The former Offaly star has a double interest in supporting Coolderry this afternoon.
First, they represent the Faithful County and second, Ken Hogan, the Coolderry manager, is his protege.
Hogan was coached by Martin while he was a developing 'keeper at Lorrha, the Tipp man's home club, and they have enjoyed a great friendship since those days in the '80s.
"I remember Ken as a child. I knew his father well, I knew all belonging to him, and when I was training Lorrha, I coached Ken when he was coming on to the senior team," he said.
"He's an outstanding coach, very good, very enthusiastic. And as well as being a good coach, unlike a lot of other coaches, he's sharp on the sideline.
"Some coaches couldn't change their mind, never mind change a team in the middle of a match. They may be great coaches to prepare a team, but when the game starts a lot of them seem to be in cloud cuckoo land," said Martin.
Regarding today's match, Martin sees it as a huge challenge for Coolderry but hopes their forward power can tip the scales.
"I don't know much about Loughgiel except from what I saw on television and they look to be a formidable outfit. But Coolderry are a good team. (Joe) Brady at centre-back is a colossus, and Coolderry have scoring forwards, which is something very few clubs have," he said.
"Their free-taker (Damien Murray), he's well able to score from play, too. I'd have to fancy Coolderry but only just and they're going to have to work their socks off if they're to win this final."
Now aged 65, the Banagher-based auctioneer still loves hurling.
Last year he guided the St Rynagh's junior team to a county title and promotion to intermediate grade.
"I'm delighted to be there, I can assure you because I don't know what I'd do without being involved in hurling. It's part of my life and I enjoy every minute of it," he said.