Friday 17 November 2017

Owens leads bridesmaids to Offaly's highest altar

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Perhaps it was the handshake between their manager and the most powerful man in the world some 15 months earlier that sowed the seeds of a piece of Offaly history.

For the first time ever Kilcormac-Killoughey are the county's hurling champions, the first 'new' winner in Offaly since Lusmagh 1989. Back in May 2011, it was the honour of Danny Owens, in his capacity as chairman of the county council, to welcome US president Barack Obama to the county when he visited his roots in Moneygall.

Earlier this year, Owens, the county's former All-Ireland-winning midfielder, took charge of the perennial bridesmaids having steered the club's minor team to championship success in 2011.

Was there a touch of 'is feidir linn' positivity with Owens and the Kilcormac-Killoughey combination as they came from four points down at half-time for this ground-breaking triumph? Something made them finally believe.

Beaten in three previous finals (2002, 2007 and 2009) and six semi-finals in the last decade, Kilcormac-Killoughey have historically been unable to translate great underage success -- 10 minor titles since 1990 -- into senior level glory.

And when they started nervously and watched captain and eventual hero Ciaran Slevin slice three scoreable frees wide in the opening quarter, it was hard to ignore the vibe around O'Connor Park that the bridesmaid tag would hang over them for another while yet.

But a critical 20-minute period after the break turned the match in their favour as they outscored St Rynagh's by 1-8 to 0-1 to open the gates to paradise.

It took considerable nerve from Slevin to reset his game after those early misses, but he was in recovery mode early when he blasted a penalty past Conor Clancy in the 11th minute.

Rather like the All-Ireland hurling final replay the previous week, referee Tony Carroll had blown just as Danny Currams was unleashing a shot but justice was done when Slevin converted the subsequent penalty.

Still, St Rynagh's looked more composed for the remainder of the half and were physically more imposing too as Carroll showed quite a lenient approach.

The wides stacked up for Kilcormac-Killoughey even after Slevin's penalty, but their captain and rangy centre-forward Conor Mahon, the target of a number of heavy tackles that went unpunished, gave them a foothold.

A point from play by Slevin pushed them into the lead, 1-3 to 0-5, on 21 minutes but the response from Rynagh's, managed by former Laois and Antrim boss Dinny Cahill, was swift as Diarmuid Horan batted home from close range.

Crushing

A further goal in added time at the end of the half from Gary Kelly, who found himself on the receiving end of a fortunate break, looked like a crushing blow for Owens' side as they retired at the interval trailing by 2-8 to 1-7.

"We weren't bothered too much even though we were four points down. We normally play better in the second half," figured Owens.

Sure enough they came good with Slevin really catching fire, hitting five of their six points as they edged in front by 1-13 to 2-9 on 44 minutes. Then came the moment that really made their people in the 7,573 crowd believe that this was finally it. A speculative Currams ball broke kindly for sub Kevin Grogan and with Clancy committed after colliding with Mahon, Grogan had the easiest of tasks. Further points from Slevin and Trevor Fletcher were divided by a bad miss from a free by Ger Scales, an indicator of the different mindset that had now gripped St Rynagh's.

With Damien Kilmartin powering into the game and Ger and Peter Healion and Alan McConville dominant at times in defence in that second half, St Rynagh's, chasing a first county title since 1993, could see it slipping away.

They recovered and got to within three points in the closing straight, but a late point from substitute Mark Leonard sparked huge celebrations.

Killoughey were Offaly champions in 1907 when, ironically, they beat Kilcormac as the champions of north and south Offaly came together.

"It's 105 years of a gap we had to fill here today. It brought a lot of pressure but it was good pressure. We embraced it rather than feared it. We're a fit team all year and that fitness came through in the finish," said Owens. "It was the most low-key approach we've ever had in our parish for a county final. It was probably needed. It wasn't by design, it just happened. People were wary of the over-hype in previous years."

Beating Birr at last in the semi-final was perhaps the greatest catalyst, he admitted. "Birr have been our nemesis for years. We've lost two county finals and numerous semi-finals to them. It was a problem to get over them. It was a psychological thing really. Getting over that barrier was a huge lift."

Scorers -- Kilcormac-Killoughey: Ciaran Slevin 1-9 (1-0 pen, 6f), K Grogan 1-0, T Fletcher 0-2 (1f), J Gorman, D Currams, C Mahon, M Leonard, P Geraghty all 0-1 each. St Rynagh's: D Horan, G Kelly 1-0 each, C Flannery, S Wynne (3f) 0-3 each, S Dolan, G Scales (2f) 0-2 each, S Quirke, P Camon 0-1 each.

Kilcormac-Killoughey -- Conor Slevin; C Guinan, G Healion, A McConville; J Geraghty, P Healion, B Leonard; D Kilmartin, K Coyne; Ciaran Slevin, C Mahon, P Geraghty; J Gorman, D Currams, T Fletcher. Subs: K Leonard for J Geraghty (27), K Grogan for Coyne (35), T Geraghty for Gorman (42), J Grogan for Guinan (48), M Leonard for Fletcher (57).

St Rynagh's -- C Clancy; C Hernon, P Camon, F Shortt; S Wynne, D Shortt, S Og Lyons; G Conneely, N White; S Dolan, C Flannery, G Kelly; S Quirke, D Horan, G Scales. Subs: N Wynne for F Shortt (32), A Treacy for Whyte (44), S Clancy for Dolan (50), G Healy for Quirke (57).

Ref -- T Carroll.

Irish Independent

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