Currams magic ends yet another Oulart fairytale
AFTER meeting Barack Obama on his visit to Ireland last year and steering Kilcormac-Killoughey to their first Offaly SH title this year, Danny Owens might have feared that the gods would order a ration of his exciting days but, no, they handed him another one in Nowlan Park.
His Kilcormac-Killoughey squad went into the final as 3/1 outsiders, a rating they completely ignored as they set about extending their empire.
They achieved it in superb style, delivering a splendidly coherent performance which illuminated the gloom on a drizzly afternoon.
Their supporters in the 3,686 crowd danced onto the pitch at the end of a very entertaining game to salute a group that are guaranteed permanent places in the club's hall of fame.
As captain Ciaran Slevin received the trophy, the Oulart players stood in a disconsolate knot, wondering if the big prize would forever elude them.
The defeat was their fifth setback in the Leinster final – with three coming consecutively since 2010. It's a heavy burden to bear for a club that has dominated Wexford hurling in recent times.
They beat the Kilkenny champions this year and last, only to find Offaly rivals, both of whom were appearing in the final for the first time, too good.
"Three years in a row and still not to win it – that's heartbreaking. It was the one title they wanted all year – the one title they wanted for the last three years," said Oulart manager Pat Herbert.
The origin of the latest defeat was rooted in exactly the same problem which undermined them in the previous two finals. Their average score over three provincial finals is a miserly 12 points, a target they didn't even reach yesterday. Quite simply, it isn't enough.
Six of their points came from Nicky Kirwan frees, leaving only five from open play, compared with 1-9 by the Offaly champions.
Kilcormac full-forward Dan Currams scored 1-2, despite missing the final 20 minutes of the first half.
He scored the crucial goal after just 55 seconds (Rory Jacob had pointed for Oulart after 20 seconds) but was forced off with a nasty wound to the head in the 10th minute.
Trevor Fletcher played for 20 minutes as a blood sub but Currams returned for the second half and made
a sizeable contribution, including scoring Kilcormac's last two points. "We didn't think he'd come out for the second half but he felt okay and when he did come in, he made a big impact," said Owens.
Currams had progressive attacking allies in James Gorman, Conor Mahon and Peter Geraghty while midfielders, Daniel Kilmartin and Killian Leonard also did well.
However, it was the solidity of the defence, backed up by goalkeeper Conor Slevin who made some excellent saves, which anchored Kilcormac's successful effort.
Kevin Grogan, Ger and Peter Healion were especially effective on an individual basis while the overall unity of the defence tied Oulart in a knot they rarely looked like opening.
Darren Nolan and Garrett Sinnott had some good moments while Jacob looked dangerous early on but wasn't in the play anything like as much as might be expected from there on.
David Redmond, Eoin Moore, Darren Stamp and Lar Prendergast hurled well further back but with the attack repeatedly driven into cul- de-sacs, Kilcormac never lost the lead which Currams' goal gave them in the first minute.
They led by 1-7 to 0-7 at half-time and by 1-10 to 0-8 after 40 minutes before Oulart enjoyed their best spell. They pared the deficit back to two points after 52 minutes but Kilcormac held their nerve.
Currams pointed almost immediately and added another in the 58th minute to see Kilcormac safely home, thus joining last year's winners Coolderry as first-time provincial champions.
"I'm not one bit surprised by that performance. We've been hurling like that all year.
"The lads showed great heart, determination and skill – when you have those ingredients, it's hard to beat them," said Owens.
Kilcormac gave a classic exhibition of Offaly defiance, showing no signs whatsoever of nerves or lack of experience in what was brand new territory for them.
Indeed, Oulart looked far more edgy and were often let down by their touch just when it looked as if they were about to build up real momentum.
Oulart didn't enjoy the best of luck either and, on another occasion, might have had three second-half goals.
However, with Conor Slevin in fine form, Kilcormac kept a clean sheet for a third successive game, crowning a wonderful season and setting up an All-Ireland semi-final clash with Thurles Sarsfields in February.
"It's an incredible day for the club. It was a massive thrill to win the county title after more than a hundred years and winning the Leinster title brings us into fairytale territory altogether.
"You couldn't ask for better. You live for moments like this. They don't come around very often – sometimes they don't come around at all. Today is an exceptional day for us," said Owens.
Both Owens and Herbert agreed that the early goal was crucial as it not only gave Kilcormac a cushion, it settled them down for the long gruelling test which followed.
"We were on the back foot for the rest of the game. We recovered from a poor start against Ballyhale last week but it didn't repeat itself today.
"The goal was just one of those unfortunate things – it left us playing catch-up for the rest of the day," said Herbert.
He felt that a few breaks went against Oulart, especially in the second half when they raised their game for a period.
"We could have got a goal – the one that Garrett Sinnott came close with. I think it came off the goalie's chest.
"That's as close as we got. Had it gone in, anything could have happened. We missed a few other chances too," he said.
Ultimately though, Oulart could have no complaints, having lost both halves to a Kilcormac side whose rate of progress under the stewardship of Owens has been quite remarkable.
Scorers - Kilcormac-Killoughey: D Currams 1-2, J Gorman, Ciaran Slevin (3f) 0-3 each, P Geraghty 0-2, D Kilmartin, B Leonard 0-1 each. Oulart-The Ballagh: N Kirwan 0-6 (6f), R Jacob 0-2, C O'Leary, D Nolan, D Redmond 0-1 each.
Kilcormac-Killoughey – Conor Slevin; J Grogan, G Healion, A McConville; K Grogan, P Healion, B Leonard; D Kilmartin, K Leonard; Ciaran Slevin, C Mahon, P Geraghty; J Gorman, D Currams, T Geraghty. Subs: J Geraghty for K Leonard (61), T Fletcher for Currams (blood sub 10-30).
Oulart-The Ballagh – B O'Connor; D Morton; K Rossiter, B Kehoe; L Prendergast, D Stamp, E Moore; D Redmond, S Murphy; D Nolan, P Roche, G Sinnott; R Jacob, C O'Leary, N Kirwan. Subs: F Cullen for Murphy (25), P Murphy for Roche (42), A Kavanagh for O'Leary (52).
Ref – S Cleere (Kilkenny)