Golf superstar Shane Lowry celebrates Offaly's win over Roscommon with his famous father Brendan on the left of picture and brother Alan to back right.
THE Offaly dressing room was an amazing sea of calm after Sunday's superb win over Roscommon in the All-Ireland U-20 Football Championship final.
The wild excitement, the shouting, roaring and singing that greeted their Leinster final win over Dublin was absent and instead, the Offaly players seemed to be taking it in their stride.
The players could not have been happier and their focus seemed to be on taking it in, enjoying the moment. They were also fully aware of what the success means to the county as a hold, the joy they have given people and what it could mean for football and themselves in future years.
It has been a year with a difference and a traditional homecoming to Tullamore could not take place because of Covid-19 restrictions. However, beeping horns, jubiliant supporters accompanied the team bus on the way back while they were given an emotional reception by people lining the street as they arrived back.
They had a meal in the Bridge House and golf hero Shane Lowry was among the well wishers to greet them here. Lowry spoke about what the win meant to him personally, his family and the county as a whole and he congratulated the team on the joy they have given people.
Brilliant Offaly forward Jack Bryant scored a decisive 1-2 and gave powerful Roscommon full forward Colin Walsh a torrid time.
“Speechless, everyone here dreamt of this when they were young. Kicking the ball at the back of the house, you dream of playing in Croke Park in an All-Ireland final. Luckily our dream came true by winning in Croke Park. It is brilliant.”
What was the mood like before the game?
“It's hard to say you weren't nervous. Driving through Dublin and seeing all Offaly supporters out on the street gives you goose bumps and all that. When you get warmed up and out on the pitch, it calms you down. Just getting the ball into the hand. Everyone was nervous going out but the minute the ball was thrown in, everyone calmed down and we all got stuck in.
“It was mad, driving through town or out by Mucklagh where I live. Flags everywhere you look on cars. It was brilliant to see it back. Not one of us on this team have seen that before and it was just brilliant to see.
Were you worried as Roscommon created goal chances in the first half?
“It does worry you but we knew, even playing against Dublin, that if they got goal chances, we would fight back. Just keep the scoreboard ticking over. I knew that if they got goals, we'd still fight back but luckily they didn't get any goals. We tightened it up in the second half and luckily they only got one goal in the end.”
He was asked about his tussle with Walsh.
“In fairness he is a very good player. Usually, players would be up my arse but he just stood off and I was not really used to that. In the first half, it took me a while to get used to it. In the second half, I got used to it better. He is a very good player and has a bright future ahead of him.”
He was delighted to get the crucial goal.
“We have been practicising that all year, running through on goal and luckily Keith (O'Neill) broke the tackle and laid off to me. I got the easy bit which was just tapping it in. We always knew they would come back. We watched their game against Down and Down were ahead by a good bit. Roscommon came back and we always knew they had that in them and would come back at us.”
This was Bryant's last year at U-20 level and now he hopes to give senior a go. “It is mad to see it coming to an end after three years. Hopefully the future is bright and I will keep going. Hopefully I will get the call up. It is up to John Maughan and the boys whoever they want to call up. It is a great experience for whoever they do call up. You learn loads from them up there. They are brilliant.”
Wing forward Cathal Flynn was a man of the match contender as he turned in a sensational display of attacking, intelligent football. Often sending opponents the wrong way with his “dancing feet” as he sized them up, Flynn said:
“Words can't describe it, I never thought I would be in this situation myself. I always grew up wanting to play in Croke Park, winning All-Ireland finals. It is just an unbelievable feeling. To see the crowds out there is special.”
He admitted that he didn't expect to be in this position at the start of the year.
“I wouldn't have believed them. At the start of the year we were a losing bet but with the pact all the boys had, we knew we would push on for the final level.
“We started off slowly with a point win against Wexford. Raf (selector, Ger Rafferty) said to us at the start of the year that a point win is enough. We just dogged it out. We made it hard for ourselves at times but every game, we just got more and more confident as a team. We drove it on in the end.
“We have a habit of making it hard for ourselves but thankfully the boys ground it out. We knew we never roll over and die. It is great to see with this team and everyone just loves a dogfight.”
The Ferbane man enjoyed the pre-match hype and it didn't affect him.
“Myself, I didn't have much problems with it. I knew all the hype around it but everyone kept their heads and weren't too big headed coming in here to Croke Park. Everyone kept their feet on the ground and we pushed on in the end.
“It is unbelievable. The roars out there, even there with fifteen minutes gone in the game and you hear the Uibh Fhaili chants around the stadium, it gives you some lift. Seeing, all the supporters, families, friends, everyone. People who have never been at games before, everyone was coming out to support Offaly.”
Cathal Donoghue gave a man of the match display. His running on the ball set the pulse racing, his fielding and mark winning was superb at a crucial stage and to cap it all off, he got two rare points. He said:
“I am over the moon all together. It is unreal what the boys have done. We got together after lockdown and what we have gone on to achieve is amazing.
“I never experienced noise like that ever. It is unreal and the Offaly support definitely had the upper hand there today. It was unreal hearing them and if anything, it drove us on.”
The Kilcomac/Killoughey man spoke about the influence of the supporters.
“I think the boys drive on when it is a bigger day. Even against Cork, the 1,400 made a difference. The support Offaly had was unreal. The noise they made. Hearing the noise when you are on the ball. When Cormac Egan gets on the ball, there is a massive roar and it drives you on.”
Was it hard to stay grounded in the build up?
“I think the boys did well to keep their feet on the ground. Ger Rafferty kept our feet on the ground. The boys wanted it more, they wanted the All-Ireland when we had the chance to get it.
“They were fairly cutting through us at the start. Only for the boys putting their heart on the line for it, goals could have went in. We sussed that out and stopped it in the second half.”
Donoghue was thrilled to get two points.
“They had Jack Bryant inside double marked and he was clever. He just brought his man out the sideline and left room for other lads to step up and kick on.”
Aaron Kellaghan kept the best wine until last as he gave his best display of the championship. The Rhode man had not fired on all cylinders in some of the earlier games but it all came right for him against Roscommon as he scored four points, three of them from play and did a huge volume of good things and hard work.
“I am stuck for words at this stage. All year, no one gave us a chance and we knew from the start of Leinster that we had the beatings of any team in the country. We had the belief ourselves but realistically we didn't think we would get this far. It is great, they gave the county a huge lift. I am delighted for everyone in the county.”
How did you handle the pre-match hype?
“It is leave your phone down and don't look at it too much because then nerves start to build and boys shy away from it when nerves build. Personally myself, I stayed away from the bigger picture and any friends or family, I texted them back and stuff like that but now I don't mind it.”
His father Paschal Kellaghan played a lot of football for Offaly and Rhode as well as managing several sides and he was asked about his influence.
“Sometimes it puts a bit of pressure on you as well. Boys would be niggling at you, telling you that you aren't as good as the auld lad and stuff like that. But he is very supportive. He is just like any normal father, very supportive and he thought me everything I know now so I am very grateful to him.”
Kellaghan agreed that it was his best game of the campaign.
“I think the build up to it all, I came out the better side of it and I probably left the best for last. I am delighted with my performance. It has been coming all year and I was raging with a couple of the earlier games. I went home and I was beating myself up over it but I am delighted now, over the moon. Probably my best game all year, you are dead right there.”
What does this win mean for Offaly football?
“It changes everything completely. I remember growing up, there would never be any excitement to play for Offaly and I know that sounds bad but now the young lads coming through see what we have achieved and they will want it. We never had someone to show us, we can do this and now we have shown the youth that we can do it. And I am delighted as well for the older generation. Some people have never seen this in thirty odd years and I am delighted to bring this back to the people of Offaly, 100%.”
Midfielder Ed Cullen put in another terrific shift, working his socks off and showing great composure on the ball. He smiled:
“It was unbelievable. Definitely the toughest match we have had all year. We knew coming into it that Roscommon would be the strongest team we faced and I am just delighted to get over the line.
“It is something you always dream of. I was quite confident myself to go on and win Leinster with the team we had this year. Even before the minors came in, the panel we have here is unbelievable. There is lads not on the 24 today and they haven't been the whole year and you are looking at them, they are just unbelievable footballers. I knew the strength we had in the panel would push us on and I was confident in us the whole year before every single match.”
He talked about the way Offaly improved in each game.
“I think it took us a while to get going and gel as a group. Especially before the first championship games as the minors were after coming in, that probably played a part in it. We hadn't got a whole lot of time together but we gelled quite well after the first one or two games. That is not to take anything away from Wexford or Westmeath, they are top teams but we definitely hit top form against Dublin and Cork. “
The Clara man did not agree with the suggestion that he also improved with each game.
“I suppose everyone improved as the games went on. I wouldn't say I improved a huge amount myself. I was there to do a different job every game but we are just delighted to get over the line today.”
He enjoyed the build up to the final.
“I didn't find it too difficult to keep my feet on the ground. You have people there like Ger Rafferty and Declan (Kelly) to keep your feet on the ground. We were told that after the Dublin win. You just get straight back into it, you have friends and family to keep you grounded. Of course there is going to be hype around but I think everyone dealt with it so well. It is a really professional set up and all the boys were unbelievable in putting out feet on the ground. I thought we dealt with it so well because it could have went to our heads. I thought we were brilliant.”
Cullen has seen what this win meant to Offaly people.
“Definitely. It is so nice to see people so happy and to be bringing a bit of happiness back, putting a smile on people's faces. I don't think we felt it as much ourselves, we were so focussed on all the games. We definitely didn't feel the excitement as much ourselves but I am sure we will feel it now in the next week or so.”
He accepted that an official homecoming couldn't take place and he saluted the Offaly support.
“I think they were half planning one in Clara, I am not sure what will happen. I am sure they will do as much as they can for us. The Offaly fans are probably the best in the country, if not the best in the world. They are unbelievable for such a small county and I am so happy to have them there for all the games this year.”
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