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'They just had to believe in themselves' - Shinrone never lost faith to win first Offaly title

Shinrone 0-26 Kilcormac-Killoughey 2-13

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Shinrone manager Trevor Fletcher celebrates with his players after their victory in the Offaly SHC final at O'Connor Park in Tullamore yesterday. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Shinrone manager Trevor Fletcher celebrates with his players after their victory in the Offaly SHC final at O'Connor Park in Tullamore yesterday. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Jason Sampson of Shinrone lifts the Sean Robbins Cup after his side's victory in the Offaly County Senior Hurling Championship Final match between Kilcormac-Killoughey and Shinrone at O'Connor Park in Tullamore, Offaly. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Jason Sampson of Shinrone lifts the Sean Robbins Cup after his side's victory in the Offaly County Senior Hurling Championship Final match between Kilcormac-Killoughey and Shinrone at O'Connor Park in Tullamore, Offaly. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

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Shinrone manager Trevor Fletcher celebrates with his players after their victory in the Offaly SHC final at O'Connor Park in Tullamore yesterday. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

There’s a consensus in Offaly that with the wealth of underage success they’ve had in recent years, it’s only a matter of time before Kilcormac/Killoughey really double down to dominate hurling in the county.

Over the previous decade, they’ve matched St Rynagh’s four titles, two more than Coolderry in the same period. But everything points to a new era with K/K at the helm. In that sense, Shinrone’s first-ever senior hurling title couldn’t be more timely.

Contesting only their second-ever final, having lost to Drumcullen in the 1960 decider, they made the most of it with an impressive second half.

Wedged into the Tipperary border in the south of the county, they have never lost faith in their pursuit of the Sean Robbins Cup.

With Shinrone riding their luck somewhat in the semi-final with two late goals against Belmont, K/K were most people’s clear favourites. And, early on, that looked justified as they laid siege to the Shinrone goal.

Twice ahead in the first quarter by three points – 0-3 to 0-0 and then 0-5 to 0-2 – it really should have been more with Alex Kavanagh spurning two clearcut goal chances in the fourth and 13th minutes.

K/K shot 12 first-half wides, with Kavanagh registering four, and had they been more clinical, they would surely have laid the platform for a fifth senior title and a first since 2017.

But Shinrone were resilient and after that early flurry of activity, they settled down. Full-forward Ciaran Cleary was their guiding hand, scoring three of their first four points inside 17 minutes to keep them in touch. His aerial power was a handful for the K/K full-back line. Eventually, Oisín Mahon switched on to him for better effect.

But Cleary, one of four brothers on the team and a nephew of former Offaly All-Ireland winner Pat Cleary on one side and Johnny, Joe and Billy Dooley on the other, gave them momentum and the rest followed.

In all, there were 11 Clearys between the team and extended squad, most close or distant relatives, while Killian and captain Jason Sampson are first cousins of that quartet of Cleary brothers. With those multi-layered connections, there was always going to be resilience in them.

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They got to the break ahead by two points, 0-10 to 0-8, and those final two points from Paul Cleary and Jason Sampson felt uplifting for them.

“They were vital for our heads. We went in at half-time really believing,” said captain Jason Sampson.

It showed in the second half as they piled on the pressure. Cathal Kiely clipped the deficit back to a point from a free – but, within minutes, Shinrone were almost out of sight with half-back Killian Sampson landing four superb points.

Michael Cleary was also pivotal and, gradually, they pulled clear to lead by 0-16 to 0-9 by the 40th minute.

Any K/K response was met positively by Shinrone. When Cathal Kiely pointed a free and substitute Charlie Mitchell pointed to make it 0-16 to 0-11, the winners steadied with two points of their own.

Then, when Ger Healion plundered a goal from a scramble to cut the deficit to five once more, Shinrone restored it to eight again with so much patient and direct play. Twice in quick succession, Eamonn Cleary denied Mitchell, the second save out of the top drawer.

K/K got a second goal from Cillian Kiely after a strong run to reduce the gap to five again, but Shinrone held their nerve and corner-back Darren Crean was so effective in reading the play during the last quarter. Donal Morkan also chipped in with seven points, four from frees and a 65.

Shinrone manager Trevor Fletcher, himself a Leinster club winner with K/K in 2012, hailed their resilience.

“They’ve been knocked and knocked and knocked, and I knew there was huge talent in them. They just had to believe in themselves. This year, they believed. I was so happy they put in the performance they did today and they got their just rewards,” he said.

Jason Sampson echoed those sentiments, too, as he basked in a successful maiden voyage. “We weren’t expected to win, but we definitely believed in our own camp,” he said.

“It was a nice way to go into the game, we felt the pressure was on them. We could go out and hurl and enjoy it. This is the day we had been waiting for, first time in 62 years. We just had to grab it with both hands, and we really did in the second half.

“The big field really suited us. We haven’t hurled here since 2019. A couple of the younger lads might not have hurled here at all.

“We have had a lot of hard losses over the years, the quarter-final in 2016 (against Kinnity) when we were 11 points up at half-time and got beaten by a last-minute goal. We have matured a lot in the last four years.”

Scorers - Shinrone: D Morkan 0-7 (4f, 1 65); C Cleary 0-5; K Sampson, J Sampson 0-4 each; S Cleary 0-2; P Cleary, D Cleary, C Doughan, DJ McLoughlin 0-1 each. Kilcormac-Killoughey: Cathal Kiely 0-7 (4f, 1 65); Cillian Kiely 1-1 (0-1 65); G Healion 1-0; A Spain, C Mahon. J Kilmartin, L Kavanagh, C Mitchell 0-1 each.

Shinrone: E Cleary; D Crean, D O’Meara, P Cleary; K Sampson, M Cleary, D Maher; D Cleary, L Watkins; D Morkhan, S Cleary, A Cleary; P Cleary, C Cleary, J Sampson. Subs: C Doughan for A Cleary (48), DJ McLoughlin for P Cleary (56), C Ryan for S Cleary (56), J Cleary for M Cleary (temp, 56), M Morkhan for D Cleary (62).

Kilcormac-Killoughey: C Slevin; T Spain, E Grogan, O Mahon; J Quinn, D Kilmartin, A Spain; Cillian Kiely, C Spain; C Mahon, J Kilmartin, Cathal Kiely; A Kavanagh, G Healion, L Kavanagh. Subs: J Screeney for Kilmartin (h-t), C Mitchell for Kavanagh (36), J Gorman for Kavanagh (38), T Geraghty for A Spain (inj, 40).

Ref - S Guinan (Drumcullen)



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