Tullamore Court Hotel Offaly SFC Final
RHODE 1-9 TULLAMORE 0-11
Kevin Egan at O’Connor Park
The 2021 Offaly senior final, when Tullamore overcame Rhode in a replay, looked to many like a changing of the guard. Rhode, as befitting a club that has dominated the Offaly scene this millennium, raged against the dying of the light, but a youthful Tullamore side over-ran them.
Factor in the domination that ‘the Blues’ are currently enjoying on the underage scene in the county, not to mention long-term injuries to two Rhode stalwarts in the form of Eoghan Rigney and Niall Darby, and it felt like Tullamore were set to lord the Faithful County for some time.
Whatever about the mileage in their legs however, Rhode’s big match know-how remains unsurpassed. They leaned on it heavily to find a way past Ferbane (on penalties) a fortnight ago, and yet again today they crafted and managed their way past Tullamore, with a goal from Rúairí McNamee and a late attacking mark from his cousin Niall the key scores in their 1-9 to 0-11 win.
Those scores might have been the headline makers, but the foundation for this victory, their 31st in all, lay elsewhere. Firstly, it lay in their incredible defensive solidity, which helped them get to half-time just 0-5 to 0-3 behind, having played into the teeth of a very strong breeze. Their ability to get numbers around the ball and discommode the Tullamore attack meant that Rhode led by 0-3 to 0-2 coming up to the interval, with Tullamore racking up eight wides in that half.
Points from Johnny Moloney and Harry Plunkett (two frees) gave the town side something to defend, but with the first attack of the second half, we saw the second key ingredient in Rhode’s win at full flight.
Anton Sullivan’s participation in this final was in doubt all week as he nursed an injury sustain in the semi-final, but the army man and county star was at his effervescent best here, putting in tackles, linking up play, beating defenders and kicking two glorious points, including a tone setter after 25 seconds of the second half.
Tullamore continued to enjoy the greater share of possession and their power around the middle forced Rhode to play a short kickout game, but that was where the third part of the mix came into play – Alan McNamee’s careful management of the game, playing a vital role in earning his 13th county senior medal, 24 years after winning his first in 1998.
Midway through the second half, it looked like they were still going to fall a little short. Aaron Leavy and Declan Hogan kicked good scores for Tullamore, Rhode were struggling to work the ball out of their own half, and a brave, diving block from Hogan to deny Stephen Hannon a goal looked like a vital swing moment.
Then Anton Sullivan kicked another superb score, Harry Plunkett was off target with what looked like a simple chance from a mark, and a long ball from Alan McNamee into the edge of the square saw John Moloney field the ball, but get pickpocketed by Rúairí McNamee on the way down. A quick sidestep, and Rhode led by two 1-7 to 0-8.
Niall McNamee kicked the next from a free, but Tullamore had one more surge in them, and in a mirror image of the end of the first half, two Plunkett frees and a point from Moloney tied up the game.
So it all fell to two late chances. Ciarán Egan pushed his effort wide, and a powerful run out of defence from Sullivan ended with a perfect punt pass into Niall McNamee, who duly split the uprights with his mark.
Not for the first time on the big stage, Rhode had found a way.
Scorers for Rhode: Niall McNamee 0-5 (0-4f, 0-1m), Ruari McNamee 1-0, Anton Sullivan 0-2, James McPadden 0-1, Aaron Kellaghan 0-1.
Scorers for Tullamore: Harry Plunkett 0-5 (0-4f), John Moloney 0-2, Nigel Bracken 0-1, Declan Hogan 0-1, Aaron Leavy 0-1, Luke Plunkett 0-1.
Rhode: Ken Garry; Brian Darby, Jake Kavanagh, James McPadden; Keith Murphy, Conor McNamee, Gareth McNamee; Dylan Kavanagh, Alan McNamee; Paraic Sullivan, Rúairí McNamee, Ciaran Heavey; Aaron Kellaghan, Anton Sullivan, Niall McNamee.
Subs: Paul McPadden for P Sullivan (half-time), Stephen Hannon for Heavey (40), Darren Garry for G McNamee (60+1).
Tullamore: Corey White; Paul McConway, Nigel Bracken, Declan Hogan; Kevin O’Brien, Johnny Moloney, Daire McDaid; Michael Brazil, Aaron Leavy; Ciaran Egan, Diarmuid Egan, Harry Plunkett; Cormac Egan, Luke Plunkett, Luke Egan.
Subs: Ciaran Burns for C Egan (41), Dan Fox for McConway (49).
Referee: Fergal Smyth.