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30 Nov 2021

New sweeper role asked tough questions of man of the match Furlong

New sweeper role asked tough questions of man of the match Furlong

John Furlong getting the ball away for Tullamore on Sunday.

JOHN Furlong was given a new role by manager Niall Stack for Sunday's Offaly Senior Football Championship final replay against Rhode.

The hugely promising Tullamore defender had been outstanding in the drawn game in a traditional type man marking role on ace Rhode forward Ruari McNamee. He held McNamee scoreless that day and the decision by the Tullamore management to give him a different job for the replay was somewhat surprising.

It did have a flip side as Ruari McNamee's was Rhode's best player Sunday. McNamee scored all three of Rhode's points in the first half and only for his contribution then, they would have been a very badly beaten side. Tullamore, however, with Furlong dropping in to double team in when he could, managed to keep him off the ball for much of the second half, and off the scoresheet as they won their first title since 2013.

Someone was always going to score for Rhode and for Tullamore, the positives far outweighed the negatives as Furlong produced a sensational man of the match performance in a sweeping role. His tackling, his covering, his ball winning, his ability to cover ground and move up field and his use of the ball were breathtaking while he crowned it all off with an excellent late point.

It was a remarkable performance by Furlong and it was another high point in a remarkable year. A grandson of Offaly goalkeeping legend Martin Furlong, the son of Ken Furlong, who also played in goals for the county at all levels, John Furlong has moved away from his family's goalkeeping tradition and looks to be a real star in the making.

His performances are astounding considering his youth. Already this year, he has played in a Leinster minor football final (the 2020 final defeat by Meath) and won All-Ireland and Leinster U-20 medals, the 2020 and 2021 Offaly U-20 football titles and the 2020 county minor football one. It is some collection of medals.

A very impressive young man of few words, Furlong prefers to do his talking on the field but he did speak about their win and his different role a few minutes after the final whistle, revealing that he enjoyed it but found it tough and energy sapping.

“I was given a bit more of a free role today but still picking Ruari up whenever I could. It is much harder when you are freer and you can get up the field a bit. You have to get back then and to try and run around after him, it is not easy.”

He agreed that Tullamore should have won the first day but he said he was still confident of winning the replay. “We felt we left it behind but I felt we could come out and win again. It wasn't too bad. Coming out, we just knew we had to do our job again and if we did, we were more than likely going to win, I thought.”

He was asked about the game. “It was tough but the conditions were a lot better. The ground is still fairly heavy and would take it out of your legs but it was much better than the last day.”

It must be easy to get carried away after the year you have had?

“Sometimes you do but every time you go training, someone brings you down and it is just to win the next game.”

Tullamore play Naas in the Leinster club championship next Sunday but it never entered his thoughts before the final whistle.

“Not really, especially after the last day, we knew this was the only thing that was important and there is no point in looking ahead,” he smiled.

Like a lot of Tullamore players, Furlong has had a hectic fixtures schedule this year, though a lesser hurling involvement meant it wasn't as tough as some of his team mates. He still picked up a groin injury that limited some of his game time earlier in the year but he enjoyed it all.

“Games are what you train for. You prefer playing games than training. It was hard but the managers and everyone looked after us fairly well. We were never really tired going in training and then out playing a match. I hurt my a groin a bit earlier in the year and it will take a couple of weeks to get right when we are finished it all but then I will be okay.”

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