DOWNLOAD THE MATCH PROGRAMME HERE: Offaly Football Finals Programme
After all the challenges posed by Covid-19 and considering the fixtures plan recently required further tweaking after a ‘localised lockdown’ in three counties including Offaly, it’s somewhat relieving that finals in four adult grades will be completed this weekend.
Seven clubs (Tullamore will compete in two finals) are bidding for glory at Senior, Senior B, Intermediate and Junior levels, with some accustomed to county final glory and others seeking a rare day in the limelight.
SENIOR – Sunday at 4.00pm – Rhode v Tullamore
It was deeply unfortunate that so few people were allowed entry to the Senior Football semi-finals, as two penultimate round games have seldom provided such excitement in the same year. Thankfully, the streaming service available on www.247.tv/gaa was a welcome alternative and armchair viewers certainly got value for money.
Rhode and Tullamore most recently met in the Offaly SFC final in 2013, with ‘The Blues’ triumphing by 2-7 to 0-9. That was their 27th title and ensured they remained on top of the roll of honour. But this is their first time back in the decider, whereas Rhode have been involved in county final day every year since, winning on four occasions to bring their tally of titles up to 29.
Their greater experience, together with a decisive victory when the teams met in Round 2 this season, may be sufficient to install Rhode as favourites. But Tullamore have the benefit of beating the county champions and the outcome of the group game will have little or no bearing on the action today.
Tullamore’s manager Niall Stack has the experience of winning titles as a player and selector with the club and earlier in the summer, also guided Colaiste Choilm to the Leinster Schools Senior Football ‘B’ title.
Rhode have a tradition of appointing managers from within the club, but this season Malachy McNulty from Laois is in charge and he has overseen a 100% record from their four championship outings. They weren’t seriously troubled by Clara, Tullamore or Cappincur and concluded their group games with a scoring average of +30.
In contrast, a scoring difference of just +1 was crucial for Tullamore as they finished level on points with Cappincur and Clara after just one victory from three outings. Maybe they are peaking at the right time as their semi-final success was undoubtedly their best performance of the season.
Tullamore’s blend of youth and experience not only blossomed during the opening 60 minutes of the semi-final, and carried into extra-time, but shone through in the shoot-out when Shane Dooley, Johnny Moloney and Paul McConway were joined by young guns Ciaran Burns and Ciaran Egan.
All Offaly GAA supporters will be pleased that Niall McNamee is back to his best form after a nasty injury prevented him from starting last year’s final. He stands out as the championship top-scorer once again and like so many of his team-mates, including older brother Alan, Anton Sullivan, Brian and Niall Darby not to mention many more, is hoping to add to an already large collection of county medals.
SENIOR ‘B’ – Sunday at 1.00pm – Durrow v Gracefield
The wise money at the start of the year was on a Senior B final between Durrow and Gracefield and that is what has transpired.
Both clubs recently featured in the top flight and are anxious to return there as soon as possible. Throughout this championship, they have played with pace and flair with many scores out of the top drawer.
Respective managers Shane Curran and Pat ‘Dingle’ Daly bright a wealth of experience to their roles also and will no doubt have studied their opponents in detail.
Durrow made all other teams in this grade sit up and take notice with a first round blitz of Ballycumber. Equally impressive in the second round against Walsh Island, they found Ferbane a tougher nut to crack in Round 3 and were pushed all the way by Tubber in the semi-final, even if they were forced to play with 14 men for over half an hour.
With two goals in three of their four outings, including memorable strikes by Billy Fogarty and John Murphy in the semi-final, Durrow feature quite a few players who triumphed at this grade in 2017 and have strengthened their panel with young players coming through from the under 20 grade, most of whom also feature prominently for the Ballinamere hurlers.
A proud club like Gracefield would have been very disappointed with relegation from the top flight in 2019 and so are very determined to bounce straight back up.
They didn’t get off to an ideal start, being held to a draw by Tubber in the opening round. Since then, however, they have made their mark with big wins over Shannonbridge and Erin Rovers, and a hard-fought victory over Ballycumber. Perhaps their best display was against Erin Rovers, with Jack Walsh and Jamie Evans running the show as they built up a tally of 4-11 after 60 minutes of blistering football.
It’s obvious from those statistics that two fit and attack-minded teams have the potential to provide an enthralling Senior B final, with the winners going home with the belief that they are back where they belong.
INTERMEDIATE – Saturday at 1.00pm – Kilcormac/Killoughey v St Rynagh’s
Mention Kilcormac-Killoughey v St Rynagh’s in a final and most people would automatically assume it’s hurling that’s being discussed. But today is an opportunity for the Cloghan-based St Rynagh’s Football Club and the ‘big ball’ exponents from K-K to take centre stage.
Both clubs are certainly here on merit and indeed will relish an opportunity to move up a grade, where they featured in recent years.
This grade was one of the most competitive in Offaly and especially Group 1. Spare a thought for St Brigid’s, who were eliminated on score difference despite winning two of their three games. Kilcormac-Killoughey actually topped the group despite narrowly losing their opening assignment to Clonbullogue, with big wins over the aforementioned St Brigid’s and then Doon giving them a very positive score difference.
Meanwhile, in Group 2 St Rynagh’s were the only team not to lose a game, with hard-earned wins over Raheen and Ballycommon sandwiched by a draw with Clodiagh Gaels.
It’s not easy for dual players to keep going week after week, but once K-K and St Rynagh’s picked up momentum, they were always likely to be strong contenders.
Indeed, Kilcormac-Killoughey’s joust with Ballycommon was one of the games of the season in Offaly club football. A helter-skelter encounter went to extra-time, and although the final scoreline was 4-14 to 2-13, it didn’t do justice to Ballycommon’s efforts. The goal scorers for K-K were Stephen Leonard (2), Cathal Donoghue and Conor Mahon.
On the same evening, St Rynagh’s led from start to finish against Clonbullogue, helped on their way with an early Graham Lynch goal. But it wasn’t plain sailing either, as the final scoreline of 1-9 to 1-7 suggests, and the Cloghan-based side were helped by strong performances from Gary Mahon and Joseph O’Connor. Long-serving stalwart and former Offaly star Ger Rafferty previously won a county final on his wedding day and now is bidding for another medal with St Rynagh’s.
JUNIOR – Saturday at 1.00pm – Daingean v Tullamore
A fresh structure for the Junior Football Championship kept all the Junior clubs on one side of the draw, with the second teams from Senior clubs placed in the other group.
Daingean were really only tested in their second round game against neighbours Kilclonfert (0-10 to 0-8), as they enjoyed winning margins of 11 and 27 points in their other two Group 1 fixtures.
Meanwhile Tullamore (who also have a Junior B side), also surged through with a 100% record with victories over Rhode, Edenderry and Clara.
In the semi-finals, Jamie Hayes and Shane Tierney were once again to the fore as Daingean cruised past Clara by 2-19 to 1-8. Tullamore didn’t have it as easy versus Kilclonfert, but were still deserving winners by 1-8 to 0-6 and their goal was scored by Patrick Cosgrove.
It’s hard to believe that six years have passed since the joyous scenes when Daingean last lifted the Tommy Quinn Cup, while Tullamore actually won this title the year before.
This is actually the only one of the four finals which features two teams that have won all their games to date, so we can expect a never-say-die attitude from both Daingean and Tullamore.