BIRR produced arguably their most polished performance since accounting for Ballyhale Shamrocks a year ago when they outclassed a much-talked about and fancied Ballyboden St Enda's outfit at Parnell Park last Saturday afternoon.
AIB Leinster Club SHC quarter-final
Ballyboden St Enda's 0-8
Ballyboden St Enda's: David Curtin (0-3, 0-2 65's & 0-1 free), Paul Ryan (0-2, 0-1 free), Conal Keaney (0-1), Mick Griffin (0-1), Dave O'Connor (0-1).
Birr: Simon Whelahan (0-6, 0-4 frees), Stephen Brown (1-1, 0-1 free), Gary Hanniffy (0-3), Dylan Hayden (0-2), Brian Whelahan (0-2), Sean Ryan (0-2), Bryan Lonergan (0-1).
Ballyboden St Enda's 8 (5 1st half); Birr 5 (2 1st half).
Red: None. Yellow (1): Conor McCormack (37 mins).
Alan Walsh reports
Many expected this repeat of the '07 provincial final (which Birr won 1-11 to 0-13) to go down to the wire, however, the Offaly kingpins paid little heed to that script and they produced some sparkling hurling to win by a comprehensive twelve points, 1-17 to 0-8.
'Boden, managed by Offaly 1981 All-Ireland medal winner Liam Hogan, confidently opted to hurl against the breeze believing they could contain the visitors and pile on the scores in the concluding half.
'Boden's game-plan was quickly ripped asunder though as Birr's super whirlwind start saw them establish a 0-12 to 0-3 advantage inside 19 minutes and by this stage, all six Birr forwards had hit the target from play.
At the break Birr boasted a considerable 0-14 to 0-4 cushion and while Brian Whelahan, who was very sharp and influential, didn't reappear for the new half after sustaining a serious knee injury it was going to take an almighty effort from 'Boden to close the gap.
'Boden replaced two of their half backs during half time and they resumed with a completely reshuffled team – only five of their players (including goalie Gary Maguire) remained in the positions they began the match.
This chopping and changing reflected just how much 'Boden were under the cosh.
The quality of Birr's defending was the abiding highlight of the second half, which was played under the Parnell Park floodlights.
'Boden managed just two points, both from 65's during the regulation thirty minutes and their only scores from play of the half came in added time, courtesy of two subs Mick Griffin and Dave O'Connor.
Gary Hanniffy's magnificent 38th minute point, after a few opportunities dropped short against the wind, represented a severe sucker blow to 'Boden and when Paul O'Meara's intelligent and perfectly weighted cross-field reached the unmarked Stephen Brown he left rain drops dangling off Maguire's net, 1-16 to 0-6.
Brown added a pointed free before outclassed 'Boden clipped over two late consolation points.
In addition to the blow of losing Brian Whelahan, Birr also lost Simon Whelahan in the 48th minute. He picked up a nasty head gash that required several stitches and from the same swinging hurley that clipped Simon, Barry Harding was also caught on the ankle.
And many Birr folk were bemused when referee Dickie Murphy opted to throw-in the sliotar rather than award the free. A couple of dubious first half sideline calls also fuelled the tension fire and the respective managers Pat Joe Whelahan and Liam Hogan clashed briefly. Birr, the reigning Leinster champions, face St Martin's of Wexford in the semi-final this Sunday and they'll need to come down from the high of last weekend very quickly to focus on that challenge.
It will also be more difficult if Brian Whelahan is ruled out. He was on fire last Saturday, grabbing two fine points, winning frees, spraying around passes and he looked poised to net a goal when he injured him-self in first half added time.
There was little to indicate from Birr's displays against Kilcormac/Killoughey and Kinnitty in the closing stages of the domestic championship, that this level of performance was in the offing. The four-time All-Ireland and seven-time Leinster champions were lively and highly motivated.
Their touch was crisp, shooting was almost unerring and their defending was top class.
It was as close to perfection that you'll see in 'winter hurling' and of course the task now is to scale those heights again against St Martin's and perhaps a Leinster Final date with Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Brian Mullins produced a stunning 30th minute reflex save when Conal Keaney pulled the trigger and his first half puck-outs were a weapon that inflicted a lot of harm on 'Boden's under pressure defence.
The entire 'Boden full forward trio was replaced and that says it all about how solid and how tightly JP O'Meara, Niall Claffey and Michael Verney marked their opponents.
Claffey, indeed, showed his net-minding skills in the 46th minute when he deflected a Keaney 21m free away for a '65.
The halfback trio of Brian Watkins (21), Paul Cleary (22) and Barry Harding (18) certainly defy the myth that Birr is an ageing side – their combined age is 61 and they repelled everything that was thrown at them. Rory Hanniffy and Barry Whelahan controlled mid-field with their exceptional work rate.
The first touch and movement of Birr's forwards was the best it has been for a long time. All six scored from play inside the opening 19 minutes and of Birr's 1-17 total, 1-12 came from play. 'Boden only managed 0-4 from play and two of those points came in injury time.
Simon Whelahan, Dylan Hayden and Brian Whelahan tormented their markers and they picked off spectacular points, with Hayden's 11th minute strike from well inside his own half being particularly memorable.
The loss of Brian Whelahan's leadership didn't hinder Birr unduly as Gary Hanniffy stepped out from full to centre forward and his 38th minute point, to add to his two from the first half, really sickened 'Boden.
Sean Ryan, Bryan Lonergan and Stephen Brown also contributed positively to a Birr side that was hungry and up for the fight.
'Boden on home turf, with the benefit of competitive action in the Dublin championship up until a week previously and with revenge on their minds after the '07 provincial final, fell terribly flat.
They were out-played in too many sectors and perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, they'll feel it wasn't the wisest choice to hurl against the breeze from the throw-in.
Simon Whelahan and David Curtin traded converted frees in the opening three minutes and this was the only occasion the teams were deadlocked. Simon converted a free won by Sean Ryan, added another from play from 64m out and in the 9th minute he got a hook in on a 'Boden defender and Ryan curled over a gem of a point off his left, 0-4 to 0-1. Conal Keaney replied with a 'Boden point and Birr bounced back with four at the other end, 0-8 to 0-2 after 14 minutes. Bryan Lonergan, Dylan Hayden, Simon Whelahan and Gary Hanniffy (after fetching a delivery from younger brother Rory) all bisected the posts.
Paul Ryan pointed from a tight angle for 'Boden and Birr responded with four more points through Hayden (whose strike was deflected over the bar), Gary Hanniffy, Simon Whelahan (free) and Brian Whelahan (following a good Mullins puck-out), 0-12 to 0-3.
Ryan converted a 'Boden free and his namesake Sean replied with a Birr point. Brian Watkins saved a 27th minute Paul Ryan 21m free and moments later a Watkins sideline was gathered by Lonergan and he off-loaded to Brian Whelahan who pointed, 0-14 to 0-4.
Keaney and Whelahan had goal chances before the break but neither found the twine.
Scores weren't as plentiful in the second half. David Curtin slotted over two points from 65's in the 34th and 46th minutes, and in between these scores Hayden fed Gary Hanniffy who landed a mammoth point and Simon Whelahan (free) brought his personal tally to 0-6.
In the 51st minute Birr sub Paul O'Meara picked out Stephen Brown and he blasted home a goal. Brown quickly added a pointed free won by Gary Hanniffy, 1-17 to 0-6, and it was merely a matter of going through the motions after that.
BALLYBODEN ST ENDA'S: Gary Maguire; Malachy Travers, Stephen Perkins, James Duffy; Tim Sweeney, Darragh Spain, Simon Lambert; Shane Durkin, Stephen Hiney; David Sweeney (capt.), David Curtin, Conal Keaney; Paul Ryan, Conor McCormack, Emmet Carroll.
Subs.: Marty O'Sullivan for D Spain (half time), Mick Griffin for T Sweeney (half time), Dave O'Connor for C McCormack (39 mins), Niall McMorrow for P Ryan (54 mins), Alan Ryan for E Carroll (54 mins).
BIRR: Brian Mullins; John Paul O'Meara, Niall Claffey, Michael Verney; Brian Watkins, Paul Cleary, Barry Harding; Rory Hanniffy (capt.), Barry Whelahan; Dylan Hayden, Brian Whelahan, Simon Whelahan; Sean Ryan, Gary Hanniffy, Bryan Lonergan.
Subs.: Stephen Brown for Brian Whelahan inj (half time), Paul O'Meara for S Whelahan inj (49 mins), Paul Molloy for B Lonergan (57 mins), Aaron Whelahan for R Hanniffy (61 mins).
REFEREE: Dickie Murphy, Wexford.