Coolderry take 31st title as exciting final belies state of Offaly hurling
Coolderry 2-17 Kilcormac-Killoughey 0-17
Much has changed for Offaly hurling since Joachim Kelly and his pioneering colleagues launched the county on the Leinster and All-Ireland glory trails in the early 1980s, but his drive and passion for the game remains as intense as ever.
Eyes twinkling with delight and satisfaction, the manger listened as his Coolderry captain Kevin Connolly recalled what he said to the squad at one of the early training sessions last January.
"I'm here to win a county title," Kelly told them.
Yesterday the target was achieved as Coolderry dethroned champions Kilcormac-Killoughey and took their county title haul to 31.
They did it with a highly efficient performance in what was an excellent contest. Such was the quality of the hurling that one would never have suspected that Offaly had lost their right to compete in next year's Leinster championship, having dropped down to the second tier.
"Club hurling is very strong in Offaly, there's nothing between the eight teams. I firmly believe there are really good hurlers in Offaly but it will take a lot of work to take it up where it needs to be," said top scorer Brian Carroll.
He contributed 0-10, including two crucial points which extended Coolderry's interval lead (1-9 to 0-8) out to three points early in the second half. It set K-K an examination which, despite the backing of the wind, they weren't quite able to pass.
They cut the deficit to a point in the 56th minute, but that was their last score, while Coolderry added 1-2, the goal coming from Eoghan Parlon on the hour mark.
It wasn't a fair reflection of K-K's input to an absorbing game, although they would have to accept that Coolderry were the better side.
There was a method to their game which enabled them to survive through the more tricky spells, while making the most of the productive periods.
They missed some good chances while playing with the wind in the first-half, but didn't allow it to distract them. A goal by the impressive Kevin Connolly in the 26th minute set them on their way to a four-point half-time lead, a margin which they would have been quite confident of closing in the second-half.
However, Coolderry's early burst of enterprise in the second-half presented K-K with a much more difficult assignment. They were four points behind after 47 minutes, but delivered their best spell to cut the margin to one.
Their supporters in the 5,072 crowd would have expected such an experienced force to complete the job, but Coolderry weren't for yielding and finished very strongly to take the title for the fourth time since 2010. K-K have also won four titles in that period, with only St Rynagh's (2016) breaking the dominance of the 'Big Two' in the last nine seasons.
Remarkably, Coolderry were mentioned as possible relegation candidates before the start of the championship, a rating which provided them with added motivation.
"We certainly didn't see things that way. We believe in ourselves and we work very hard. It means an awful lot to the people of Coolderry to win this 31st championship. Hurling is a way of life for us and you can see the delight today brings to everybody," said Carroll.
He was one of their top performers on a day when Kevin Brady, who was named Man of the Match, Barry Teehan, Stephen Burke, David King, Eoghan Parlon and Kevin Connolly also performed extremely well.
Joachim Kelly, who also steered his native Lusmagh and Portumna to county titles, said this was one of the sweetest experiences he had enjoyed in a lifelong involvement in hurling as player and manager.
"You get a great sense of satisfaction out of watching a team develop and improve throughout the season. These lads deserve everything they get," he said.
Even when K-K cut the lead back to a point, Kelly was confident his side would hold their nerve and complete the task.
"Coolderry have a tradition of finishing well. They have a real never-say-die attitude. They don't have 31 titles for nothing," he said.
Scorers: Coolderry - B Carroll 0-10 (6f, 2'65s), K Connolly 1-2, E Parlon 1-0, M Corcoran, S Corcoran (f), D King, C Molloy, K Brady 0-1 each
Kilcormac-Killoughey - Ciaran Slevin 0-6 (4f), C Mahon 0-3, D Murray, C Kiely, T Geraghty 0-2 each, D Currams, J Gorman 0-1 each
Coolderry - S Corcoran; S Connolly, T Corcoran, S Burke; B Teehan, K Brady, B Kelly; M Bergin, D King; E Parlon, C Molloy, D Parlon; B Carroll, M Corcoran, K Connolly. Subs: C Parlon for Kelly (31), D Miller for D Parlon (41), J Brady for M Corcoran (52),W Malone for Molloy (52)
Kilcormac-Killoughey - Conor Slevin; G Healion, E Grogan, O Mahon; K Grogan, D Kilmartin, K Leonard; S Leonard, D Murray; C Mahon, Ciaran Slevin, P Geraghty; C Kiely, D Currams, T Geraghty
Subs: J Gorman for S Leonard (45), C Lowry for Currams (50)
Ref - S Guinan (Drumcullen)