Geraghty adds final flourish to Kilcormac fightback
From the deep dark of the rain-soaked midlands, Kilcormac-Killoughey's grand romance throws out the lambent glow of candle-light.
The first-time Offaly champions will now contest a Leinster final on Sunday week, having overcome Laois title holders Rathdowney-Errill in what was rumoured to be a fine contest in Tullamore yesterday.
It was hard to be certain of the small detail, given a November day as black as coal, with punters speculating on the likely impossibility of facilitating extra-time if deemed necessary.
That didn't seem exactly far-fetched, given the sides were level with just two minutes of normal time remaining. But Peter Geraghty then knifed home the crucial goal, batting past Noel Brennan at the second attempt for a score that devastated opponents who had established an impressive 0-13 to 1-6 lead midway through the second half.
The Offaly champions completely dominated that final quarter, outscoring Rathdowney-Errill 1-6 to 0-1 in a late surge that thrilled their manager, former Offaly stalwart Danny Owens.
"Things weren't looking great," he admitted. "We were making some very basic errors out the field, but our lads have been very resilient all year. They never give up. They've everything you'd want in a team."
Whether that equates to sufficient armoury for a looming provincial final against either Ballyhale or Oulart is a moot point. Still, in the previous 105 years of hurling in either Kilcormac or Killoughey, chasing pots outside of Offaly would have seemed just an extravagant conceit. But little more than five weeks after making history by downing St Rynagh's in the county final, Owens' charges can now dare to dream.
They were unimpressive for long period yesterday, the Laois champions hurling with more snap and energy and Ross King, particularly, giving Ger Healion an uncomfortable afternoon with his roving approach to full-forward play.
King positioned himself just nominally on the edge of the square, routinely going on safari towards the right wing, from where he would score an impressive 0-4 from play. He should have had a goal too when one on one with Conor Slevin midway through the second half, but the goalkeeper made a brave block, Liam Tynan blazing the rebound over.
A goal then would have put Rathdowney-Errill six points up and, in the context of the game, probably out of reach. Instead, they somehow disappeared in the gloom, shedding their four-point lead over the next seven minutes and leaving themselves vulnerable to Geraghty's late dagger blow.
For a team contesting its fourth Leinster campaign in six seasons, that had to be difficult to digest.
"We had the opportunities, but didn't nail it," conceded team manager Frankie McGrath. "They're heartbroken in that dressing-room. At this level, you have to take your opportunities. But at the same time we're incredibly proud of the effort that we put in. Laois hurling gets a bit of bad press from time to time, but nobody can point the finger in the direction of RE.
"Whatever problems are there, Rathdowney-Errill I hope went a long way today towards restoring some pride."
The scarcity of light and preponderance of rain made for challenging conditions and there was little to illuminate the early flurries until Dan Currams fired home a 17th-minute goal for the Offaly men after a wonderful catch and delivery by Conor Mahon.
Minutes later, Trevor Fletcher blazed another great goal chance narrowly wide and, for a time, it looked as if that miss might come back to haunt them.
The Laois champions took complete control in the third quarter, their half-back line especially taking a foothold and King scoring freely in attack.
John Purcell also stepped up to the plate with two points in a three-minute burst and only a splendid Brian Leonard point, virtually from the hospital car park, offered evidence of an Offaly pulse.
But surviving King's goal opportunity seemed to trigger something in Kilcormac-Killoughey and the switch of Killian Leonard to defence created hitherto unseen cul-de-sacs for the Laois men.
Suddenly, James Gorman was in off the bench and on fire while others like Mahon and Currams were getting on top of their markers down the middle. Ciaran Slevin's free-taking had the Offaly men level by the 53rd minute and, from there, there was only going to be one winner.
Brennan, to be fair, did brilliantly to parry Geraghty's initial 58th-minute shot with his foot, but the sliotar spooned up kindly for the Offaly man and he finished emphatically at the second opportunity. Currams and Geraghty quickly added points to create the illusion of a comfortable win.
So this amalgam of five sets of brothers (two of them twins) pushes ever deeper into an Irish winter, still dreaming the big dream.
"We'll be up against the big guys – no matter if it's Oulart or Ballyhale – the next day," said Owens.
"But we'll be prepared and we'll give them a game of it. We're kind of used to looking at the Jacobs and Shefflins and all these guys. Look, you get opportunities in life and you have to try and grasp them. You never know. These lads have that Offaly spirit, that old never-say-die attitude."
And if a request is forthcoming from either the Wexford or Kilkenny camps to have the final put back a week?
"Doesn't really concern us," he smiled. "Whatever day they say, we'll be there. We'll play it on Christmas Day, if need be."
SCORERS – Kilcormac-Killoughey: Ciaran Slevin 0-6 (5f, 1 '65'), P Geraghty, D Currams 1-1 each, B Leonard, K Leonard, C Mahon, J Gorman 0-1 each. Rathdowney-Errill: R King 0-7 (3f), J Purcell, L Tynan 0-2 each, D King, J Phelan, S Dollard (f) 0-1 each.
KILCORMAC-KILLOUGHEY – Conor Slevin; J Grogan, G Healion, A McConville; K Grogan, P Healion, B Leonard; D Kilmartin, K Leonard; P Geraghty, C Mahon, Ciaran Slevin; T Geraghty, D Currams, T Fletcher. Subs: J Gorman for Fletcher (h-t), K Coyne for J Geraghty (44), M Leonard for T Geraghty (60).
RATHDOWNEY-ERRILL – N Brennan; L Mahon, B Campion, A Delaney; P Mahon, J Fitzpatrick, J Corrigan; S Dollard, E Meagher; P Purcell, D King, J Purcell; L Tynan, R King, J Phelan. Subs: J Ryan for D King (22), O Houlihan for Meagher (58).
Ref – J Owens (Wexford)