In passing, Owens said that if they managed to reach St Patrick’s Day, an All-Ireland club final would be the biggest day in the parish’s history by far.
Now, having beaten Oulart, and Thurles Sarsfields in the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final, they’re warming up for the showdown with St Thomas of Galway.
Is it taking over the lives of people in Kilcormac-Killoughey the way he thought it might?
“Ah it is, though I’m sure that’s true of all the four clubs who’ve qualified for the finals. You have the elation of getting through the semi-final, it’s fantastic and the buzz is there for a few days, but we were back training on the Wednesday night, assessing where we were and what we needed to do – trying to plan our way forward and to keep a lid on things as much as we could.”
It’s unknown territory for them, which brings its own challenges. One of those is getting the team to peak again after an All-Ireland semi-final. Another is simply keeping feet on the ground.
“I’m sure it’s the same for everyone. You want to steady the ship as soon as you can and get lads back concentrating on getting ready. Now the run-in helps, the fact that you have five weeks. You’ve to peak for a big game, the semi-final, and then peak again for the final, so it’s a bit of a challenge, though the other side of that is you’re not used to doing that at this time of the year.
“In effect you’re at the end of a very long season, just as it is for everyone, so that’s an issue in itself – trying to make sure you’ll get the maximum from fellas and hoping to get them to peak again on March 17.”
It means trying to get ballwork done, for instance, at a time when laps of the field are the usual fare.
“Yes, normally at this time you’d be trying to get the grunt work done, putting the miles in to get the stamina up, but now we’re trying to fine-tune our game. Usually at this stage you’d only be getting into the ballwork. Going into Croke Park as well, it’ll be different – a firm surface, a good sod, so it’ll be summer hurling in terms of the surface and so on.”
One advantage they have is a full panel to pick from. Wearing his hat as a Fianna Fáil councillor for Tullamore, Owens is well aware of the toll being taken on clubs by emigration.
“I suppose Offaly’s a microcosm of the rest of the country. There are people after emigrating from clubs all over the country, and to take an obvious example, a lot of last year’s Offaly county hurling panel are either gone or are about to go. That’s a reflection of it. We’re probably no better or worse off in county terms than other counties, while specifically for Kilcormac-Killoughey as a club, all our guys are still around because of the big day that’s coming up.
But if we weren’t in that position we’d be feeling the pain the same as everybody else. In our club we don’t have too many lads working away, though we would have a good few students in the group, lads who are in college in Galway, Limerick and Dublin.”
In the overall scheme of things for Kilcormac-Killoughey only one matter is significant at present. Their date with Galway champions St. Thomas in Croke Park.
“They’re very similar to ourselves — a rural country club with a lot of family members in the team and the backroom.
“Both clubs have won a first county title, are in a first All-Ireland final, so there are a lot of similarities. I’m sure John (Burke, St Thomas manager) and the lads below are looking forward to it as much as we are – all everybody is trying to do is to put their best foot forward.
“I don’t know if the extra game they played (All-Ireland semi-final replay against Loughgiel) makes much of a difference. They’d have more lads with experience of Croke Park with a few Galway panellists, but I think we’re going in on a par. It’s the first time there for both clubs – and we’ll be hoping to embrace the occasion and win the game. So are St. Thomas.”
1) Darragh Burke v Conor Mahon
Mahon is the fulcrum of the Kilcormac-Killoughey attack but now, in the absence of the injured Daniel Currams, has an even greater responsibility. A huge man, Mahon’s power and physique ensures there is always a plentiful supply of breaking ball for the dangerous Ciaran Slevin and Peter Geraghty on the wings.
2) Kevin Grogan v Bernard Burke
Burke — a cousin of the six brothers of the same surname on the team — was the star of the show for St Thomas’s in their semi-final win over champions Loughgiel but Grogan did a superb job on Thurles Sars danger-man Lar Corbett in the semi-final, also starred in the Leinster final win over Oulart-The Ballagh.
Not a head-to-head, I know, but the St Thomas’s duo of David Burke and James Regan, county stars both, lorded it against Loughgiel Shamrocks. Killian Leonard and Damien Kilmartin don’t have the same profile but will need to forget about reputations and just dig in here. Crucial area of the field in the expanse of Croke Park.