Ciaran Slevin lifting the Sean Robbins Cup in 2012.
AS captain of the Kilcormac/Killoughey team that made the all important breakthrough when winning the Senior Hurling Championship for the first time in 2012, Ciaran Slevin's place in club folklore is well and truly assured.
He was in outstanding form that year as K/K ended years of trauma, hard luck stories and self inflicted defeats by winning the Sean Robbins Cup for the first time. He was their top scorer, hitting the target with great regularity from frees and play but his contribution went way deeper than that. He stood up to be counted when the pressure was on, got scores that mattered and set up others. It all culminated with his selection as the Offaly hurler of the year that year.
Slevin announced his retirement from club hurling last week. His decision was not a big surprise. As K/K entered a transitional period, he found himself in the role of an impact sub in the 2020 Senior Hurling Championship – a job he did well, coming off the bench in some games and helping to drive them across the line.
At 34 years of age, his legs may not have been able to cover the ground that they once did, his body unable to sustain the hits that he could bounce off a few years ago but his class, quality and tempermanent was still apparent.
His last game came a few weeks ago in the 2020 Senior Hurling Championship final defeat by St Rynagh's and if he was harbouring doubts about hanging up his hurl, that game would have confirmed his decision. It was time to hand the torch onto the younger generation. K/K's comprehensive 1-19 to 1-13 defeat had little to do with Slevin. On the day, they were not as hungry, they were not as fit and they were not as tough as St Rynagh's. The champions performed very well and were clearly the best side in Offaly last year but it was a dispiriting, thought provoking defeat for K/K.
Back in 2020 before the championship was put on hold because of Covid-19, Slevin and Ger Healion had been used as impact subs. Sitting on the bench was unfamiliar territory for them but they accepted it with grace, and did exactly what K/K wanted coming into games. They gave team mates a lift, they did the right thing and they upset the opposition. It was a different story in the county final though – K/K were in trouble almost from the start, resulting in Slevin being thrown in after 24 minutes while Healion was on for the start of the second half.
That had not been part of the K/K game plan and was a sign that they were in serious trouble. K/K had missed a few early frees and Slevin got six from placed balls while Healion also tried very hard when introduced but St Rynagh's were unstoppable.
It is not that Slevin is deserting a sinking ship, far from it. He has other priorities in life now. Married to Mucklagh woman, Claire Davis, they are rearing a young family while he has a successful, developing carpentry company – Called Ballyoran Wood Company, he does all household carpentry jobs as well as making very attractive garden furninture, tree-houses etc.
That 2012 win sparked a great run of success for Kilcormac/Killoughey. It ended years of hardship and Slevin had endured many of those in the 2000s as they lost a series of county semi-finals and finals.
There was a couple of generations of K/K hurler who took the full haul of underage medals from U-12 up to U-21 during an era of incredible success in the 1990s and 2000s. Slevin was not part of that. Before that senior hurling win in 2012, he had only won an U-12 C football shield medal and a Junior Football Championship one in 2006 – he was a decent footballer, featuring on successful K/K sides over the years. His only hurling medal was a Leinster Vocational Schools one with Kilcormac VS.
Slevin came from Kilcormac GAA royalty. He was born in 1986, the year that Kilcormac and Killoughey GAA clubs amalgamated as Kilcormac/Killoughey. His father Joe was the Kilcormac chairman at the time as the clubs made their momentuous decision. The GAA also oozed out of his mother and her family. Dolores was a Spain and Ciaran's grandfather, the late Mick Spain was one of Offaly's legendary GAA figures – a long serving Offaly GAA Central Council delegate, he was known throughout the country. His uncles on the Spain side played hurling and football for Kilcormac and then Kilcormac/Killoughey for years in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s while Joe Slevin was a very good footballer and hurler – he played county minor and U-21 football, winning a Leinster U-21 medal in 1979. He won club hurling championships and was on the Kilcormac team that was beaten by Ferbane in the 1986 Senior Football Championship final – Ciaran was born between that semi-final and final.
At underage level, Ciaran lost two U-16 hurling finals while he was on the K/K side that qualified for the 2007 U-21 hurling final but they refused to play because of players doing their Leaving Certificate and the game was awarded to St Brendan's.
He came onto the K/K senior hurling squad for the first time in 2003, ironically as sub goalie to Stephen Byrne. By 2004, he was on the team at corner forward and he was an ever present from then until last year, when his role changed.
K/K knocked on the door almost every year from 2004 onwards. They were beaten by Birr in the 2007 county final and a few semi-finals while the 2009 final defeat by Tullamore was a particularly brutal pill to swallow. K/K were hot favourites but were steamrolled by a fiercely hungry Tullamore side and suffered a devastating defeat. Tullamore repeated that victory in the 2010 semi-final and Slevin suffered the trauma of being wrongly sent off for a second yellow card after he was singled out for felling Shane Kelly but was yards away at that time.
In 2011, K/K were beaten by Coolderry in the semi-final but it all came right in 2012. Birr were finally conquered in the semi-final and on a day of raw emotion and great celebrations, they beat St Rynagh's in the final. Slevin showed great character that day. He missed a few handy frees early on that could have broken his morale but retained his composure, began to hit the target and was a key figure as they finally got across the line.
That was only the start of the K/K adventure. They went onto win the Leinster club hurling title that winter and reached the All-Ireland club final the following March where they were not far off the mark against St Thomas of Galway.
With Slevin outstanding, K/K had a great few years. They completed three in a row in 2013 and 2014 and returned to capture a fourth title in 2017. Since then, K/K have struggled a bit while remaining very competitive. They have been close but St Rynagh's in particular have moved to a different level and K/K are now trailing in their wake.
Slevin's retirement marks another step in the changing of the guard as a new generation comes on line. Already Peter Healion has stepped away while Dan Currams hurling has effectively ended with emigration to England. Ger Healion is continuing to play this year and came on as a sub in their win over Seir Kieran last Saturday. Other long serving players are entering the Winter of their career. Conor Mahon and James Gorman still have a lot to offer but are gone by their peak, the Grogan's, Kevin and Enda were subs against Seir Kieran last Saturday while the Geraghty twins, Peter and Thomas are searching for their best form – the Geraghty's did not feature last Saturday. Another stalwart from the championship winning sides, Killian Leonard is now a sub while Damien Kilmartin is still playing very well at centre half back.
There is light at the end of the tunnel for K/K as they have a lot of exciting young talent coming up. Charlie Mitchell made his debut last Saturday, Jack Screeney lined out at wing back, Lochlann Kavanagh is establishing himself as a very lively forward. Cathal Kiely is coming back from injury and is one of the best young hurlers in Offaly, Cathal Donoghue's priority is football but he will be very good at club senior hurling level while they are looking forward to the emergence of another exciting prospect, a forward, Adam Screeney out of minor ranks.
K/K should come again and there should be more titles for them but it remains to be seen what the time frame will be.
Ciaran Slevin also played for Offaly. He made nine league and championship appearances in 2007, 2013 and 2014 but didn't establish himself at that level. He was there during a spell when Offaly was really in the doldrums and there were a variety of reasons for him not establishing himself. However, for a decade, he was one of the best, most influential club hurlers in Offaly and his contribution will be long remembered by his club.
Like any players, he had his bad days. Days when frees and shots sailed wide, the ball didn't come up, ones where it didn't happen for him but they were rare and his good days far out numbered them. To put it simply, he was one of the most important figures on the great K/K team that dominated Offaly hurling for a few years in the 2010s.
Wren also played in All-Ireland final
MORGAN Tynan was not the only Ballinagar man to play in an All-Ireland final. After Offaly's fantastic recent win over Roscommon in the All-Ireland U-20 Football Championship final, I incorrectly stated that Tynan was the first Ballinagar man to play in an All-Ireland final.
That accolade actually belongs to Charlie Wren, who was wing back for Offaly in the famous 1961 All-Ireland senior football final defeat by Down. Wren had been midfield on the Offaly side that won the Leinster senior football title for the first time in 1960 while he made 48 league and championship appearances from his debut against Dublin in 1957 until his last game against
Louth in 1964.
He was an excellent performer on the first great Offaly football side and was always proud of his Ballinagar heritage, even though the club had gone out of existence when he was a young player and he didn't play for them – he played for the parish side, St Mary's as well as Air Corps in Dublin, where he played along side the 1960/1961 free taker, Har Donnelly. Wren discovered that Donnelly was a native of Kilcormac and brought this to the attention of the Offaly selectors, who duly recruited him, adding an important piece to that great jigsaw.
Last week's answers are:
1 – Two sets of brothers started the 1992 All-Ireland club hurling final for Birr. Name them?
Answer: Johnny and Declan Pilkington, Joe and Martin Erritty.
2 – In 1973, Offaly won the Leinster senior football and the Grounds Tournament. Name the captains?
Answer: Pat Keenan and Martin Furlong.
3 – Name the only man to captain Offaly in both senior football and hurling?
Answer: Noel McGee, Tullamore.
This week's questions are:
1 - Name the three brothers that were on the Offaly junior football team that lost the 1967 Leinster final?
2 – What was unique about Offaly's early league matches in football and hurling in 1970?
3 – Which county registered the same score against Offaly in three All-Ireland championship matches in a nine year period in th 1960s and 1970s?
Answers in the next column. With thanks to former referee Carthage Buckley for supplying the questions.
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