Dunloy fail to stop Whelehan running riot as Birr blast way into decider
There really is no substitute for class and, when it came down to it, Offaly and Leinster champions Birr were just simply superior in every aspect of their game as they blew away Dunloy Cuchulainns in Clones.
A wintry shower of hail just before the start and a difficult playing surface meant nothing to the hardy warriors of Birr who simply possessed too many gears for a Dunloy outfit that could not match them.
In the first-half one sensed that it was more an exercise in contentment and limitation by the Antrim and Ulster champions and those suspicions proved well founded as Birr pulled away in the second-half and effectively had the match won approaching the end of the third quarter with Dunloy left chasing shadows.
Team captain Brian Whelehan hurled with a ferocity that Dunloy could not match with Rory Hanniffy at centre-back and his towering brother Gary on the '40 always giving Birr an edge.
The introduction of substitute Michael Dwane at the start of the second-half had a profound effect as he tore strips off the Dunloy defence to score an excellent point himself and, crucially, to earn a series of frees that Simon Whelehan converted to push the game well beyond Dunloy's reach.
It was their ability to vary their game to suit the prevailing conditions that put Birr in a class apart as the Dunloy defence was repeatedly stretched and but for the excellence of Gareth Magee they might well have lost by a greater margin.
He took off a couple of great saves and one brilliant interception about 20 metres from his goal in the run-up to half-time as Birr began to gain momentum and, but for those efforts, there might have been more than the single point between them that separated them at the break.
Birr opened an early three points lead with a brace from Brian Whelehan, one from a free, and one from Sean Ryan but by the 15th minute Dunloy were level thanks to the accuracy of Gregory O'Kane with two from frees and one from play.
Dunloy took the lead briefly twice in the second quarter through Damien McMullan with a point after 18 minutes and Gregory O'Kane restored them to the lead after Paul Cleary had fired over a '65 for Birr.
The pace quickened considerably in the run-up to half-time with a brace from Rory Hanniffy to put Birr back in front. Gary McAllister equalised but back came Birr for Brian Whelehan to restore their lead to leave the half-time score Birr 0-7, Dunloy 0-6.
The third quarter belonged almost exclusively to Birr who made a number of adjustments to allow for the introduction of Michael Dwane and by the end of the third quarter they had opened a four points lead as Rory Hanniffy, free, Simon Whelehan, substitute Michael Dwane and Simon Whelehan again from two frees all found the range.
Gregory O'Kane helped to keep Dunloy in touch with a point in the 14th minute but the game was slipping from them and they were not to score again until the 28th minute by which stage Birr had tagged on five points without reply, one apiece by Gary and Rory Hanniffy and three from top scorer Simon Whelehan to wrap it up completely with Dunloy a well beaten side at the finish of the game.
Scorers -- Birr: S Whelehan 0-5 (4f), R Hanniffy 0-4, B Whelehan 0-2 (1f), S Ryan 0-2, P Cleary 0-1 (1f), B Whelehan 0-1, G Hanniffy 0-1, M Dwane 0-1. Dunloy: G O'Kane 0-5 (4f), D McMullan 0-1, G McAllister 0-1, P Shiels 0-1, P Doherty 0-1.
Birr -- B Mullins, JP O'Meara, P Cleary, M Verney, B Whelehan, R Hanniffy, N Claffey, B Whelehan, P O'Meara, S Ryan, G Hanniffy, B Watkins, S Whelehan, D Haydon, S Brown. Subs: M Dwane for P O'Meara, K Hehir for S Ryan, B Lonergan for S Whelehan.
Dunloy -- G Magee, M McClements, J McKeague. K Martin, S Mullan, D McMullan, G McAllister, L Richmond, P Shiels, M Curry, C McGuckian, C Cunning, A Elliot, G O'Kane, P Richmond. Subs: D Quinn for A Elloit, M Molloy for M Curry, P Shivers for G McAllister, S Dowds for C McGuckian, P Doherty for P Shiels.
REF -- M Haverty (Galway).