Birr in bid for fifth title in-a-row

ALL-IRELAND club champions Birr bid for their fifth consecutive Offaly SHC title against first-time finalists Ballyskenach at St Brendan’s Park tomorrow.

Should they triumph, Pat Joe Whelahan’s side will emulate the achievement of the great St Rynagh’s team of 1972-’76.

This will be Birr’s 10th county final since 1990 and they are bidding for their 18th title in all.

Ballyskenach, in contrast, are newcomers to this stage and were plying their trade at junior level as recently as 1994.

Meanwhile, Kerry hurling is back in the headlines, for all the right reasons as champions Kilmoyley face Lixnaw in the county SHC Final at Austin Stack Park, Tralee, tomorrow (3.30).

Kilmoyley are bidding to emulate the feat of the team which achieved the three-in-a-row between 1962 and ’64.

That is a huge motivational factor for a team captained by Maurice Murnane, son of club chairman Seán, who was there in 1964 when the hat-trick was acheived with a final victory over Lixnaw. The champions are at 2/5 to make it three county titles in succession. Lixnaw, with county footballer Eamonn Fitzmaurice among their ranks are available at 2/1.

Across the border, Limerick SFC finalists Athea are leaving nothing to chance in their preparation for tomorrow’s decider with fellow westerners Drom-Broadford.

Last year’s Intermediate champions are so intent on achieving the type of fitness that will be required in the wide open spaces of the Gaelic Grounds, that they regularly set out in convoy at 6.30am to allow for 8am sessions on Beale Strand.

Former Kerry player Patsy O’Connell, drafted in as manager this season, says they know every inch of the

Kerry beach but are not so familiar with the Ennis Road venue where, in fact, they be in action for the first time, this year.

Drom, seasoned campaigners at this level since their own promotion three seasons ago, won their first and only success in 2001.

Athea beat Treaty Sarsfields in the 1968 final to win their sole title.

Interestingly, Athea took the first steps towards joining the elite when disposing of Drom after three titanic games in the 1997 county junior final.

Nowadays Drom-Broadford are backboned by county stars Jason Stokes, Michael Reidy and Seamus Stack. Centre-back Tom McLoughlin adds experience as does corner forward Ray Lynch.

Athea don’t have the benefit of the experience of any county man, but midfielder Neilus Hunt was part of Liam Kearns plans when he first assumed control.

While Drom can boast of the scoring talents of Michael Reidy, their opponents have the competition’s leading marksman in teenager Ger Ahern.

Brothers Pat, Brian, Michael and Sean are all key figures in the Athea challegne.

On their way to the final Athea lost to last season’s champions Monaleen in their League section.

Drom, too, had one setback, at the hands of Fr Casey’s of Abbeyfeale.

Both sides play open and attractive football, and if Athea don’t let the big occasion get to them they will be thereabouts at the last whistle.

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