Novel Offaly Senior Hurling Final almost too close to call

FOR only the second time since 1999, neither Birr nor Coolderry have made it through the Offaly Senior Hurling Final making this year’s decider between St Rynagh’s and Kilcormac/Killoughey a particularly novel affair.

FOR only the second time since 1999, neither Birr nor Coolderry have made it through the Offaly Senior Hurling Final making this year’s decider between St Rynagh’s and Kilcormac/Killoughey a particularly novel affair.

The last time the big two missed out on the final was in 2009 and on that occasion Tullamore bridged a 50 year gap between titles with a 2-12 to 0-11 win over Kilcormac/Killoughey.

That was Kilcormac/Killoughey’s third defeat in the final in the space of eight years and it was a tough one for them to take as they had been widely tipped to end their wait for a first title.

Fast forward to 2012 and Kilcormac/Killoughey are again in the final against a team aiming to end a famine of their own in the shape of St Rynagh’s.

A dominant force winning 16 titles from 1965 to 1993 (including 5-in-a-row from 1972 to 1976), St Rynagh’s have been starved of Senior success in recent times.

Those successes at senior level were all back-boned by successful minor teams and their success at that grade again in recent years bodes well for St Rynagh’s.

After their success in the Minor A in 1986, the club endured a fallow period right up to 2005 however since that breakthrough win they have added further titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010 and will be hoping that those players can come of age on the senior stage this Sunday.

Kilcormac/Killoughey have enjoyed their own measure of success at Under 18 level winning titles in 2006 and 2011 overcoming St Rynagh’s in last year’s decider. In fact the sides have won the last five titles between them and the fact that they have reached the Senior Final backboned by younger players is a testament to the clubs’ ability to bring talent through. For the record the clubs have also won five of the last six U-16A titles which bodes well for the future development of both sides.

St Rynagh’s suffered two setbacks in the first stage of the championship losing to Shinrone and Belmont on their way to securing fourth place in Group 2. That set up the most difficult quarter-final against defending champions and beaten All Ireland finalists Coolderry. However on the day St Rynagh’s came of age with a 0-15 to 1-7 win that sent a shockwave through the hurling community in Offaly.

They followed that up with an equally impressive win over a fancied Shinrone side who had beaten them in the group stages. Stephen Quirke and Gary Conneely were the key men scoring 3-5 of the 3-12 total on the day while restricting Shinrone to 15 points. That was St Rynagh’s second highest score of the campaign and they have been steadily improving at the attacking end of the field as the year has progressed.

Kilcormac/Killoughey come into the final unbeaten after opening the year with consecutive draws against Coolderry and Seir Kieran respectively. They scored consistently if not spectacularly through their group games to qualify second behind Coolderry before blasting 3-20 past Belmont in the quarter-final. That set up a semi-final showdown with Birr where they showed great determination to come through with a one point win with the crucial goal coming from Conor Mahon.

Kilcormac/Killoughey combined have yet to win a Senior Final and, rightly or wrongly, they have gained the reputation of a team that struggles on the big day. However Danny Owens and his management team will be doing their best to get the team both physically and mentally prepared for the game.

While there are younger players on the team, there is also considerable experience in the shape of Daniel Currams, Conor Mahon, Trevor Fletcher, James Gorman and captain Ciaran Slevin. They have a clean bill of health and are expected to name the same team that saw off Birr in the semi-final.

Rynagh’s too have plenty of experience to help the younger players on the day with likes of Diarmuid Horan, Gary Conneely, Conor Hernon and Ger Scales all likely to play a key role. While Kilcormac/Killoughey are relatively injury free, St Rynagh’s have some injury concerns chief among them being Joseph O’Connor.

There is little to chose between the teams based on their recent form and there will certainly be no lack of hunger from either side. A bounce of a ball one way or the other could decide the game and both sides will be determined to keep mistakes to a minimum.

St Rynagh’s are hoping to bridge a 29 year gap since their last title while Kilcormac/Killoughey are still in search of an elusive first title.

It is almost too close to call but based on their recent experience in Senior Finals and the experience, however bitter, that brings with it, a tentative nod is given to Kilcormac/Killoughey to win their first senior title.