independent

Monday 21 April 2014

End of dual dream a blessing in disguise for Owens

Kilcormac/Killoughy captain Ciaran Slevin will face Oulart-The Ballagh in the AIB Leinster SHC club championship final

DANNY OWENS is put on the spot. Which event would top his 'most memorable' list? Meeting US president Barack Obama on his visit to Offaly last year or steering Kilcormac-Killoughey to a first Leinster SHC title should they beat Oulart-The Ballagh on Sunday?

Owens was chairman of Offaly County Council when the most powerful man on earth came to Ireland and was part of the welcoming committee when he visited his ancestral home in Moneygall. These days his duties are more parochial but no less significant so his answer is impressively diplomatic. "I wouldn't like to compare the two," Owens demurs.

Kilcormac-Killoughey's story follows a trend found throughout the country. One of the biggest parishes in Offaly, they fielded two senior sides for much of the last century. They had their own traditions and histories – Killoughey beat Kilcormac in the Offaly SHC final of 1907.

There was an aborted attempt at an amalgamation in the 1970s under a Na Piarsaigh banner. They tried again, successfully, in 1986 and after many years of knocking on the door, 2012 has been their most fruitful year to date.

"Over the years we were found wanting when it came to the crunch in the last 10 minutes of big games," Owens says. "There was a lack of confidence before, but this year it was there because they started doing things well and they corrected a lot of the problems that had let us down in the past. They discovered the self-belief that they could do it and that's what you need in big matches."

In a hectic seven days, they secured their first senior hurling title on an October Sunday. The following Friday night, 11 of the same squad secured the county's JFC title.

The footballers were out again in Leinster two days later and lost to Meath's Ratoath. Given the overlap between the two panels, Owens concedes that defeat might just have been a blessing in disguise.

Focus

"It probably helped us that the guys didn't have two teams to focus on at the end of a long season. It was probably better for us, but, at the same time, when your club are playing, especially in a Leinster Championship, you want to see them win.

"It was a lot to take on for amateur sportsmen. You wouldn't like to say that or think that at the time, but it worked out okay in the end."

It should have been no surprise that Owens managed the club to their first Offaly title. His career as a player was pockmarked with breakthrough wins.

He was part of the first Offaly panel to win Leinster in 1980 and he was there again when they won their first All-Ireland a year later. In 1991, he captained the Faithful to their only National League success.

Kilcormac-Killoughey haven't let up since making their own piece of history and have set up a final date with Oulart-The Ballagh – with the Wexford men going into Sunday's clash as clear favourites, based on their success over Ballyhale Shamrocks.

Kilcormac-Killoughey had a more favourable draw than Oulart as they saw off the Carlow and Laois champions to reach Sunday's showdown.

Oulart beat last year's Kilkenny champions James Stephens last season, only to be caught by Offaly representatives Coolderry in the final. If that line of form holds, and the likes of Ger and Peter Healion, and captain Ciaran Slevin perform, then Kilcormac-Killoughey have a fighting chance.

"There was a reference made earlier on that Coolderry were a bit lucky last year. I wouldn't say that. When both teams started the game last year they had 60 minutes to win it and Coolderry won it," recalls Owens.

"There will always be situations that will occur in matches, mistakes will be made and you'll get a bounce of the ball, a bit of luck goes your way or whatever and that'll be the same next Sunday. We'll just have to take whatever comes our way."

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