Whelahan magic keeps Birr bandwagon rolling
LEINSTER CLUB SHC FINAL BIRR 1-16 CASTLETOWN 0-11 OFFALY champions Birr roared out of the decade as they raced into it by recording a magnificent victory in the Leinster Club SHC Final.The latest triumph was at windswept Nowlan Park yesterday where they blew away the challenge of Laois kingpins Castletown in what was a dour and hard-fought contest.
This was Birr's fourth success of the '90s and confirms their position as the number one club side in the eastern province.
Birr laid the foundations for victory in the opening half when they kept their opponents on a tight rein throughout to turn over a mere point behind with wind advantage to come.
And within eight minutes of the restart Birr were well on their way to glory and the ticket into the All-Ireland semi-final against Athenry of Galway was theirs.
The Whelahan brothers, Brian and Simon, made significant contributions to the success as they always do when Birr triumph. Between them they registered nine points, but it was the powerful hurling of Brian at centre half-back during the second period that stoked the fires in the bellies of the winners and he was a major force in closing out Castletown.
Gary Hanniffy, who was used excellently to win ball on puck outs around midfield, was another star and Gary Cahill, Johnny Pilkington and Declan Pilkington also made significant contributions.
Castletown, who lost to the same opposition in the final two years ago, came out full of intent and tore into their opponents.
Their all-action approach was rewarded with early points for Patrick Phelan and their star performer Paul Cuddy.
However, Castletown conceded an early goal to Declan Pilkington and that really put them under pressure for the rest of the half. That soft goal was conceded through sloppy defending and the ball entered the net through the legs of goalie John Lyons.
Castletown just couldn't get a strong rhythm going after that, despite the excellent urgings of Paul Cuddy, John O'Sullivan and Padraig Cuddy.
At half-time, it was a 29th minute point from Paul Cuddy that divided the sides and left Birr 1-4 to 0-8 in arrears.
Within seconds of the restart Simon Whelahan had eliminated the deficit. Paul Cuddy and Simon Whelahan swapped scores during the next few minutes, but it didn't take Birr long to take the lead.
In the 38th minute Declan Pilkington found himself in an acre of space 30 yards from the Castletown goal and he duly posted a point. A similar score from Brian Whelahan was followed by one from Gary Hanniffy, who powered his way through the losers' defence, and suddenly Birr had a bit of breathing space and a lead of 1-9 to 0-9.
Eamonn Kennedy pointed in a bid to lift Castletown's spirits, but you could sense by this stage that Birr were in the winning mood. When Brian and Simon Whelahan tipped over two further scores, the game was going away from Castletown and they just could not haul it back.
In the end, the Offaly champions won handsomely. And even if they didn't look the most fluent side on occasions, there was admirable intent about the approach of every player.
MAN OF THE MATCH Brian Whelahan.
SCORERS Birr: S Whelehan 0-5, B Whelehan 0-4, D Pilkington 1-1, G Hanniffy 0-3, J Pilkington, B Milne, P Molloy 0-1 each. Castletown: Paul Cuddy 0-5, P Phelan 0-3, J O`Sullivan, Padraig Cuddy, E Kirwan 0-1 each.
BIRR B Mullins; G Cahill, J Errity, D Franks; B Whelehan, B Whelehan, N Classey; J Pilkington, B Milne; D Hanniffy, G Hanniffy, L Power; P Hanniffy, D Pilkington, S Whelehan. Subs: P Molloy for Power, O O'Neill for D Hanniffy.
CASTLETOWN J Lyons; M Phelan, J Cuddy, T Phelan; R Delaney, Paul Cuddy, J O'Sullivan; D Cuddy, C Cuddy; Padraig Cuddy, E Kirwan, P Phelan; G Cuddy, F O'Sullivan, P Dollard. Sub: S Hanlon for T Phelan.
REF - A MacSuibhne (Dublin).