'Big men for the big day' - experienced Rhode reclaim Offaly title

The Village, not used to being underdogs, upset Tullamore.
'Big men for the big day' - experienced Rhode reclaim Offaly title

RHODE TO VICTORY: Rhode players celebrate winning the Offaly SFC decider. 

Tullamore Court Hotel Offaly SFC Final 

Rhode 1-9 

Tullamore 0-11 

Despite going into yesterday’s final in pursuit of their 12th senior title in 19 seasons, Rhode were cast in the unusual position of underdogs for their clash with Tullamore – and it was a position that they were quite happy to occupy, according to manager Declan Gorman.

“We’ve never been underdogs before in this game, so it was a different feeling. There was a huge outpouring of relief after the game” he said on the pitch, as crowds spilled on to celebrate the 1-9 to 0-11 win for ‘the Village’.

“We just stood back and let the razzmatazz go on in town here. It wasn’t easy for them, the management is trying to keep it down and keep it focussed, but everyone is trying to talk to them, everyone is telling them that they’re going to win, they’ll do two in a row, three in a row.

“We’ve brought that into games over the last 20 years and it’s not easy. I don’t know if it affected them or not, but we're certainly used it” he added.

It was certainly a win for counter-punching football. Rhode packed their defence in the first half and allowed a wind-assisted Tullamore side to kick away their advantage, racking up eight wides by the interval. Three Niall McNamee frees put them 0-3 to 0-2 in front after 29 minutes, and it was only when Tullamore finally found a trace of momentum, kicking three before the break, that they looked like the team that everyone expected them to be.

“I wasn’t happy with all aspects of the first half but I wasn’t worried about being behind by just two at half-time, knowing the forwards we have and the space we’d get, I knew we’d get the chances we’d need,” said Gorman.

They got the chances they needed, and the right men were in position to take those opportunities. Anton Sullivan opened the second-half scoring with a fine strike after 25 seconds, and while Tullamore continued to enjoy the greater share of possession, with most of the action taking place in the Rhode half of the field, Alan McNamee marshalled things at the back while Sullivan provided the fizz and energy up front.

Even so, midway through the second half, it looked like the Village 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 past the keeper, and Rhode led by 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.

And so it all came down to two big moments. A fast attacking move down the left flank ended with Ciarán Egan snatching a shot at the Rhode goal, pushing it wide from 25 metres out. When Rhode got their chance, there was no such lack of composure.

Anton Sullivan, who went on to collect the man-of-the-match award, broke out of defence and played a perfectly-measured punt into the chest of Niall McNamee on the edge of the arc. McNamee, so often the hero for Rhode in county finals, had been quiet thus far but he held his nerve and split the uprights from the mark.

“Big men for the big day” said Gorman.

“It was put down as youth against experience, and we knew that experience counted for something!” 

Scorers for Rhode: N McNamee 0-5 (0-4f, 0-1m), R McNamee 1-0, A Sullivan 0-2, J McPadden 0-1, A Kellaghan 0-1.

Scorers for Tullamore: H Plunkett 0-5 (0-4f), J Moloney 0-2, N Bracken 0-1, D Hogan 0-1, A Leavy 0-1, L Plunkett 0-1.

Rhode: K Garry; B Darby, J Kavanagh, J McPadden; K Murphy, C McNamee, G McNamee; D Kavanagh, A McNamee; P Sullivan, R McNamee, C Heavey; A Kellaghan, A Sullivan, N McNamee.

Subs: P McPadden for P Sullivan (half-time), S Hannon for Heavey (40), D Garry for G McNamee (60+1).

Tullamore: C White; P McConway, N Bracken, D Hogan; K O'Brien, J Moloney, D McDaid; M Brazil, A Leavy; C Egan, D Egan, H Plunkett; C Egan, L Plunkett, L Egan.

Subs: C Burns for C Egan (41), D Fox for McConway (49).

Referee: F Smyth.

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