Shane Tierney, right, will have a big role to play in the JFC final.
THE Junior Football Championship final that practially all observers expected will take place next Saturday when Tullamore and Daingean do battle for the Tom Quinn Cup.
Daingean v Tullamore
Junior Football Championship Final
O'Connor Park 1:00 PM
Referee: Chris Dwyer
Before a ball was kicked in anger, it was clear that Tullamore and Daingean were a step ahead of all their competitors at this level and so it has proven as both have qualified for the final without undue bother – top marks to Kilclonfert who provided the biggest challenge for both sides, losing out to Daingean in the group stages and giving Tullamore plenty of food for thought in the semi-final.
Tullamore have been favourties from the start. The club made winning this championship one of their big priorities in 2020 and this was understandable – it is Tullamore's second team and really, they shouldn't be back in Offaly football's fourth tier. They were relegated from intermediate last year and Tullamore have such a vast pick that they really should be up a higher level. While Rhode, Edenderry and Clara all compete in junior football with their second team, Ferbane are in senior “B” and that really puts perspective on where Tullamore are.
Tullamore have a great mix of experience and youth. They have players who have been key performers on senior football winning sides with Mark Conlon marshalling the defence from centre half back and Shane Kelly running the attack from centre half forward. Kelly went off with an early injury in the semi-final win over Kilclonfert and he was really dictating the game until then, spreading quality ball into the forward line. His absence was a definite factor in Tullamore being so close and if he doesn't make it back for the final, the favourites will be very vulnerable.
Other such as Dean Carroll, Tom Furlong and Patrick Cosgrove have also played senior while they have emerging, talented young footballers who will play senior in the future – if they stick with the game, and that is never a guarantee in Tullamore where the fall off from minor into adult ranks is far more severe than any other club.
Jay Sheerin, Patrick Fahey and twins, Michael and Daniel Fox are among their players who have played minor or U-20 football for Offaly in recent years and this quartet can certainly go on to have long senior club careers. Josh Evans was an important member of the Colaiste Choilm, Tullamore team that won the Leinster Colleges Senior “B” football title this year and he also has a bright future.
Tullamore, however, will be very wary of the threat posed by Daingean. Daingean have a great and proud tradition, winning senior football titles and providing some of Offaly football's most heroic footballers. They are not one bit happy to be back in the fourth tier and are desperate to get back up a rung. The traditional powerhouse in Daingean parish, they are looking up at Cappincur in senior and Ballycommon in intermediate and Daingean really need to get back up.
They have worked very hard at changing their stars and they have been in outstanding form this year. Daingean easily qualified out of a group that included Ballinagar, Kinnitty and Kilclonfert, though they were given a big fright by parish neighbours, Kill. They hammered Clara in the semi-final, 2-19 to 1-8 and while Clara were there for the taking, having lost a couple of players to senior, that is serious scoring in a semi-final against any opposition.
It was so convincing that there is actually a temptation to make them favourites for this final. They have one of the best forwards in Offaly, Shane Tierney, a young player who has played senior county in the past couple of years, though he wasn't on the panel this year – a player like this is a huge asset at this level and Tierney will have a massive bearing on how this championship goes.
They have plenty of experience. John Kenny has returned to Daingean in the past couple of years and is still capable of stamping his class on games, even though now in his 40s. A Leinster senior championship and National Football League medal winner with Offaly in 1997 and 1998, Kenny started out his career with his native Daingean before switching to Tullamore, with whom he had some outstanding years and won senior football medals – he played alongside Mark Conlon and Shane Kelly on some of these.
Stephen Burns is also playing in the Daingean attack – a flying wing back for Daingean in the 1990s/2000s, he is also getting on but he keeps himself in great shape through running and is a very clever, consistent footballer and contributing well as a roving sweeper. Adam Bolger is an excellent young defender and Daingean have a great chance in this decider. It is really set up for them to destroy Tullamore's grand plans.
Tullamore, however, have been very impressive. They won their three group games against Edenderry, Clara and Rhode and then got the better of Kilclonfert, 1-8 to 0-6. That was a low scoring game and raises questions about Tullamore, however, it may also serve them very well and they needed a tough test ahead of the final. Shane Kelly went off early with an injury in the semi-final and they really need him on board – he is a scorer and playmaker, and he came on for Tullamore in their surprise senior “B” hurling semi-final defeat by Drumcullen on Saturday.
This should be a fine game of football and both sides will go out to play the final the way it should be played. There won't be much in this one.
Full preview in Tullamore/Midland Tribune.