COOLDERRY are within sixty minutes of becoming the 24th club name to be inscribed on the coveted Tommy Moore Cup. This Saturday, at 2pm in Croke Park, Ken Hogan’s charges face Loughgiel Shamrocks of Antrim in a novel AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Final and having blazed an impressive trail thus far, the 29-times Offaly kingpins will be hopeful of completing the job.
Hurling fever has engulfed the rural South Offaly village, with green and white flags and bunting flying proudly everywhere and an air of cautious confidence pervades. Coolderry have never contested an All-Ireland club final whereas Loughgiel were champions in 1983 and the ‘Glensmen’, coached by Jim Nelson who needs no introduction to Offaly fans, certainly can’t be underestimated. Sides from the ‘Faithful County’ have never got it easy against their Antrim counterparts and that was message being hammered home by Hogan, team captain Brendan O’Meara, Trevor Corcoran and Cathal Parlon in interviews this week.
Having accounted for Ballyboden St Enda’s, Oulart-the-Ballagh and Gort, the Coolderry men have come through what would be considered the more difficult side of the draw and they’ve been impressive at both ends of the pitch. They’ve no injury worries and if the lethal scoring quartet of Parlon, Eoin Ryan, Damien Murray and Brian Carroll can shake off the shackles of their markers and cut loose, then Coolderry will be well on their way to an historic victory.
Barry Teehan has blossomed into a very effective playmaking centre forward and if Martin Corcoran replicates his All-Ireland semi-final performance, where his ability to win primary possession tormented Gort, then Loughgiel captain Johnny Campbell and his defensive colleagues Neil McGarry, Ronan McCloskey and Martin Scullion will be in for a busy afternoon.
Both Coolderry and Loughgiel retained their respective county crowns last year after going a very long spell without putting titles back-to-back. Coolderry went to Raharney at the first hurdle in Leinster in 2010, while Loughgiel went to contest the All-Ireland semi-final where they lost to O’Loughlin Gaels of Kilkenny. That loss to Raharney was the proverbial kick up the behind that prompted Coolderry to take a look at their inner selves and they bounced back with determination.
In eleven championship matches since losing to Raharney, the Offaly champions have given away a measly six goals and while much has been written about the scoring ability of Liam Watson, Joey Scullion, Eddie McCloskey and Declan Haverty, they’ll have their work cut out to make inroads on St Patrick’s Day. Aerially, Joe Brady, Brendan O’Meara and Trevor Corcoran have been consistently strong, refusing to be drawn out of position and frustrating decent attackers.
Kevin Brady and Kevin Teehan have been shining at mid-field with a notable improvement in Brady’s distribution being key to helping the forwards optimise scoring chances. Loughgiel showed in their extra time semi-final victory that they won’t lie down easily and both St Rynagh’s and Birr can vouch for that from past experience.
Loughgiel have a reputation for refusing to give up the ghost. Their Antrim crown looked to be sitting askew as they trailed 0-10 to 0-14 against Cushendall in the final, but they hit 1-4 without reply in the closing minutes, securing their 17th county title and it was their first time since 1970/’71 to put successes back-to-back. Loughgiel encountered precious little difficulty en-route to capturing their sixth Ulster title as they’d sixteen points to spare over both Kevin Lynch’s of Dungiven (Derry) and Ballycran.
Next up for Loughgiel were Na Piarsaigh of Limerick and the Munster champions, after taking the scalps of Ballygunner and Crusheen (in a replayed provincial final) were highly fancied to prevail at Parnell Park. However, Loughgiel weren’t reading that script. They led 0-18 to 1-11 with full time in sight but Na Piarsaigh struck late to send the tie to extra time. In the additional, twenty minutes, Loughgiel produced a tour-de-force as they outscored their opponents by 0-9 to 0-1, thereby giving them an emphatic 0-27 to 2-13 cushion. A certain Liam Watson hit 0-16 and Coolderry will have to be on their toes if they are to negate his threat.
Loughgiel were beaten in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final 0-10 to 3-10 by O’Loughlin Gaels of Kilkenny, so they have a habit of conceding goals in key games and if they are any way brittle in this respect on Paddy’s Day, well then Parlon, Ryan and Murray will punish them severely.
It will be interested to see how both clubs adjust to the expansive arena that is GAA headquarters and you’d imagine the space should suit Coolderry’s wristy forwards.
Coolderry are well drilled, have hurled to a clearly defined game-plan and there is a maturity and purpose about their play. They’ve prepared diligently and while there’ll be a certain amount of nerves they are more than capable of drowning out the Loughgiel Shamrocks challenge.