25 Jan 2022

1991 National Hurling League success was important stepping stone for Offaly

1991 National Hurling League success was important stepping stone for Offaly

1991 National Hurling League success was important stepping stone for Offaly

Ahead of the start of the 2021 National Hurling League, Kevin Corrigan looks back on an important victory that set Offaly up for success 30 years ago

OFFALY'S win in the National Hurling League in 1991 has been almost forgotten but it played a significant part in the success story yet to come later in the 1990s.

It was Offaly's only National Hurling League win and it came in the midst of an era when the county collected Leinster and All-Ireland titles for sport. It came almost in the middle of the 1980s and 1990s glory days and it provided an important bridging step between those two great sides.

The great team if the 1980s won Leinster titles in 1980, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1988, 1989 and 1989, All-Ireland titles in 1981 and 1985. By the team the league was won in 1991, they were in decline but a bright new era was dawning.

It was an incredible time for Offaly hurling. The big breakthrough in 1980 and 1981 had yielded a tremendous additional bounty with All-Ireland minor hurling wins in 1986, 1987 and 1989. It created a massive wave of anticipation and excitement in Offaly. It also created pressure and it was not simple.

Offaly won their only three Leinster hurling finals in a row from 1988 to 1990 but didn't manage to get to an All-Ireland final in either year. They lost to Galway twice in All-Ireland semi-finals while the shock 1989 defeat by Antrim was hugely traumatic for all involved.

Some of the heroes of 1981 and 1985 were now in the winter of their career and moving on was not an easy process. Some left themselves and others were told their time was up, either by being left off the panel or not picked for games. It was hard for some of those players to move away and no manager wanted to tell them to go either.

After the Andy Gallagher/Diarmuid Healy combination ended, Offaly went through managers very fast. Kilkenny man George Leahy was a short term replacement while Pat Joe Whelahan and Paudge Mulhare had short reigns. Padraig Horan, captain in 1981, was the manager in 1991 and trying to manage players he had soldiered so long with along with the outstanding emerging talent was quite a challenge.

It was a delicate balancing act. Some of the newcomers were very young and Offaly were conscious of the damage that could be done by introducing them too soon.

Unsurprisingly, the Offaly team included a mixture of the old and the new. The National Hurling League final against Wexford was a tough and dogged affair – most of their games fitted that description in that era. Offaly won by 2-6 to 0-10 and the team was captained by Danny Owens, scorer of a crucial late point in the 1981 All-Ireland final win over Galway. The goalkeeper was Jim Troy, sub in 1981 and between the posts in 1985. It included other heroes from those wins, Joachim Kelly, Mark Corrigan and Joe Dooley.

Martin Hanamy bridged the young and the old generations and by that stage, he was already one of the top corner backs in the county – he had won an All-Star in 1988 and before 1994, he was the answer to a famous question: Name the only Offaly man with an All-Star and no All-Ireland medal?

The rest of the team had won All-Ireland minor medals on the various 1980s sides: Brian Hennessy, Shane McGuckian, Hubert Rigney, Roy Mannion, Brian Whelahan, Johnny Pilkington, Johnny Dooley, Daithi Regan and Michael Duignan. Two more, Billy Dooley and Brendan Kelly came on as subs.

Offaly had actually scraped into the quarter-finals out of Division 2. They had beaten Antrim, Laois, Meath, Derry and Kerry but lost to Galway and Down. With Galway topping the division, Offaly had to play off with Down for the second qualification place. They reversed the result, winning by 3-13 to 2-7 and embarked on a run then that saw them beat Waterford by 3-14 to 0-14 after extra time in the quarter-final.

In the semi-final, scores were at a premium against Tipperary in Limerick as Offaly won by 1-7 to 0-7 and they did just enough to beat Wexford in the final.

The league win resulted in great satisfaction but it also proved to be the swansong of the remainder of the 1980s side, apart from Jim Troy and Joe Dooley, who were much younger. Offaly were beaten by Dublin in the Leinster semi-final a few weeks later and that was their first time since 1980 not to reach a Leinster final.

There was plenty of negative talk in the county at that stage but in late 1992 Eamon Cregan was appointed as manager. Owens, Mark Corrigan and Joachim Kelly drifted off the scene and a famous All-Ireland win in 1994 was followed by an equally famous one in 1998 as the great minors fulfilled their potential and players such as Brian Whelahan, Johnny Pilkington and Johnny Dooley became household names.

The Offaly side that beat Wexford in the 1991 league final was: Jim Troy (Lusmagh); Brian Hennessy (Birr), Shane McGuckin (St Rynaghs), Martin Hanamy (St Rynagh's); Hubert Rigney (St Rynagh's), Roy Mannion (St Rynagh's), Brian Whelahan (Birr); Johnny Pilkington (Birr), Joachim Kelly (Lusmagh); Johnny Dooley (Seir Kieran), Daithi Regan (Birr), Joe Dooley (Seir Kieran); Mark Corrigan (Kinnitty), Michael Duignan (St Rynagh's), Danny Owens (Killoughey). Subs – Billy Dooley (Seir Kieran) and Brendan Kelly (Lusmagh).

Pictured is the Offaly team that defeated Tipperary in the 1991 National Hurling League semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. Front row l to r; Danny Owens (capt), Brian Hennessy, Martin Hanamy, Jim Troy, Johnny Dooley, Mark Corrigan and Hubert Rigney. Back; Shane McGuckin, Brian Whelahan, Joachim Kelly, Joe Dooley, Michael Duignan, Daithi Regan, Roy Mannion and Johnny Pilkington 

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