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Whelahan and Claffey have it their own way

BIRR 3-12; KILCORMAC/K'GHEY 2-7 REIGNING All-Ireland SHC club champions Birr earned the right to represent Offaly again when they completed a four in-a-row winning sequence in yesterday's final at Birr.

St Brendan's Park housed the largest attendance for a county final for many years, estimated at almost 8,000, and the hot favourites did not disappoint the big home following as they cruised to a comfortable victory.

The significant difference between the sides was the ability of the Birr forwards to pick off their scores from play. In contrast Kilcormac relied on frees for all their first half scores and over the entire hour they managed just two scores from play.

Birr had their 17th title in sight at the halfway stage, as they turned over leading by 3-4 to 1-4 despite having played against a stiff wind.

Simon Whelahan almost equalled Kilcormac's total on his own, as he contributed 2-5 of Birr's tally and yet was pipped for the man of the match award by club-mate Niall Claffey who was truly outstanding at left half-back.

Scores were level three times in the opening quarter during which the most spectacular effort came from Kilcormac's Mark Hand when he sent a 75 metres free far out on the right sideline all the way to the Birr net in the eighth minute.

Birr's reply was swift and decisive, Simon Whelehan outpacing the defence in a race through the middle which he capped by kicking an equalising goal past Stephen Byrne.

A second Birr goal in the 19th minute, netted by Rory Hanniffy following good approach work by his brother Gary and Simon Whelehan put a large dent in Kilcormac's hopes of springing a surprise.

A third goal followed five minutes before the break when Simon Whelahan forced the sliotar home in a goalmouth scramble.

Kilcormac had still failed to score from play when they went in a the break trailing by 3-4 to 1-4, and their prospects were not helped by the loss of Tony Spain who was forced to retire injured three minutes into the second half.

Pointed frees by Colm Cassidy and John Leahy for Kilcormac sandwiched another Simon Whelahan point, but then followed a hat-trick of Birr points through Simon Whelahan, Paul Molloy and Gary Hanniffy in a seven minute spell which stretched the holders lead to eight points.

Colm Cassidy got Kilcormac's first score from play 10 minutes from the end, but Brian Whelahan negated the effort by landing a huge free from inside his own half.

Kilcormac subs Mark Leonard and David Gleeson combined to create a close range chance for the latter, but his shot was saved by Brian Mullins. Kilcormac were rewarded for their efforts with a David Gleeson injury-time goal.

SCORERS Birr: S Whelahan 2-5, R Hanniffy 1-0, G Hanniffy 0-2, J Pilkington, P Molloy, Brian Whelahan, D Hayden, M Dwane 0-1 each. Kilcormac/Killoughey: J Leahy 0-4, M Hand, D Gleeson 1-0 each, C Cassidy 0-2, M Murray 0-1.

BIRR B Mullins; G Cahill, J Errity, JP O'Meara; D Franks, Brian Whelahan, N Claffey; Barry Whelahan, R Hanniffy; P Molloy, J Pilkington, G Hanniffy; L Power, D Pilkington, S Whelahan. Subs: M Dwane for D Pilkington, D Hayden for Power.

KILCORMAC/KILLOUGHEY S Byrne; J Flynn, H Kilmartin, S Spain; K McConville, M Hand, J Flaherty; M Murray, K Rigney; P Cummins, T Spain, C Cassidy; J Leahy, G Healion, P Leonard. Subs: J Wynne for Leonard, M Leonard for Healion, O Kenna for T Spain, D Gleeson for Cummins, P Healion for Rigney.

REF B Keeshan (Shinrone).