Birr 3-12 Kilcormac/Killoughey 2-7

By Jim O’Sullivan AGAINST different opposition, Kilcormac/Killoughey might at least have been competitive over a longer period in yesterday’s Offaly county hurling final in St Brendan’s Park.

But considering the overall strength and vast experience of reigning All-Ireland club champions Birr, it was no surprise the game was as good as decided before half time.

All that was required of Pat Joe Whelahan’s team to complete the four-in-a-row was to maintain their consistency through the second half and this they managed with little difficulty.

On a day when Birr celebrated their 17th triumph (winning twice last year, after the 2000 final had been delayed by foot and mouth), the real satisfaction for manager Pat Hoe Whelahan was in retaining the title.

“It was our first time to win the county after winning the club (three times),’’ said Whelahan, who won five medals in succession with St Rynagh’s in the 1970s.

“Before the final we had only about seven sessions. We did no real training apart from a few matches. I kept them very fresh and you could see in the last 10 minutes we looked a bit weary. It was a tough enough game and you could see that a big crowd came to see us being beaten.’’

Johnny Pilkington agreed that the retention of the championship had been the big motivation this year. “The two-goal gap we opened up early on was the difference. Kilcormac were unfortunate to concede three goals in the first half. If it had been a draw at half time it would have been totally different,” he observed.

Back in 1907 Kilcormac contested their only final when they lost to fellow parishioners Killoughey and it was only in 1986 the teams amalgamated. Twice semi-finalists against Seir Kieran in the 90s and successful at

under-age level in recent years, they approached yesterday’s game with a degree of optimism. And it seemed to be justified when they were level at 1-3 each, after 13 minutes. But, as things turned out, it flattered them.

Rory Hanniffy and Liam Power goaled for Birr in the 19th and 23rd minutes and the holders moved into a position of supremacy from which they were never going to be toppled.

Hanniffy got his goal after Simon Whelahan won the ball against two defenders to cleverly played it into his path. The other came after county goalkeeper Stephen Browne made a good save before the ball was kicked over the line in a scramble.

Kilcormac/Killoughey defended well, with Seamus Spain and John Flaherty impressive on the left flank and Mark Hand doing well at centre-back. However, apart from free-taker John Leahy looking promising in early attacks, the attack posed no real threat. It wasn’t just that they were up against a very experienced defence, in which Joe Errity and Brian Whelahan were commanding in the centre, more that they lacked real penetration overall.

It was 3-4 to 1-4 at the interval, and while the challengers introduced two new forwards on the resumption and added a third within three minutes, there was to be no real change in the trend of the game. Martin Murray was one of their few stars at midfield and Colm Cassidy came more into the game at wing-forward. But Birr were so much in control they never really came under pressure.

Apart from Niall Claffey, outstanding at right-half for the champions, goalkeeper Brian Mullins’ handling of the ball under pressure was superb. And with solid performances from the likes of Johnny Pilkington, team captain Gary Hanniffy and crafty Simon Whelahan, Kilcormac/Killoughey made no worthwhile progress. Nevertheless, they showed admirable commitment and it was notable that Mullins denied substitute Ronan Sweeney a certain goal in the 53rd minute before David Gleeson, another substitute, scored a consolation goal in injury time.

Former star Brendan Keeshan, refereeing his first final after being involved for only four years, did an excellent job.

Scorers for Birr: S Whelahan 1-5 (0-4 frees); R Hanniffy and L Power 1-0 each; G Hanniffy 0-2; M Dwane, D Hayden, J Pilkington, P Molly and Brian Whelahan (free), 0-1 each.

Kilcormac/Killoughey: J Leahy 0-4 frees; M Hand 1-0 free; D Gleeson 1-0; C Cassidy 0-3 (0-2 frees).

BIRR: B Mullins; G Cahill, J Errity, JP O’Meara; N Claffey, Brian Whelahan, D Franks; Barry Whelahan, J Pilkington; L Power, G Hanniffy (capt), R Hanniffy; D Pilkington, P Molloy, S Whelahan. Subs: D Hayden for Power (42nd minute); M Dwane for D. Pilkington (injured, 50th).

KILCORMAC/KILLOUGHEY: S Byrne; J Flynn, H Gilmartin (capt), S Spain; K McConville, M Hand, J Flaherty; M Murray, K Rigney; P Cummins, T Spain, C Cassidy; J Leahy, G Healion, P Leonard. Subs: J Wynne for Leonard and M Leonard for Healion (second half); A Kenna for T Spain (33rd minute); D Gleeson for Cummins (49th).

Referee: B Keeshan (Shinrone).

*Offaly IHC semi-final: Coolderry 0-5, Ballinamere 0-3.

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