Offaly’s wheel of good fortune

This isn’t a run of the mill story of a GAA club and a final.

There’s a wagon wheel involved.

That’s for later, though. We’ll start with the hurling.

Kilcormac/Killoughey appear in tomorrow’s Leinster Club SHC final, when they’ll take on Oulart-the-Ballagh.

It’s been a long, strange trip for the Offaly club. Ten years ago they lost to Birr. Three years ago they were hot favourites against Tullamore and lost again. This year was their fourth final in a decade and they were four points down at half-time but they came back and won. Tomorrow’s their first Leinster final, but it’s Oulart’s third in-a-row. The Wexford side are seeking to avoid a third consecutive defeat, so Kilcormac/Killoughey are up against it, but they’ve met bigger challenges and found a way around them in the past.

“There are two separate parishes,” says club official Jim Gorman. “Two churches, though there’s just the one priest, two post offices and so on. Like Oulart-the-Ballagh, if you like.

“We were separate up to 1986, that was the year we amalgamated. Kilcormac won the intermediate championship in 1981 and Killoughey won it in 1982, so the two teams were in the senior grade then, but they couldn’t manage it so we came together.”

Progressive stuff. The onslaught of emigration means amalgamation is a possibility for many clubs now, particularly in remote areas. Kilcormac/Killoughey offer a positive template for joining forces because they did so as equals.

“It went off without a hitch because the two clubs had gotten into the senior grade a few years before that, so it wasn’t as if one club had been very successful and the other hadn’t been. It went off very well.”

The proof of the pudding is in this year’s honour roll. You know about the senior title, but that’s the headline. Get into the small print.

“I’d say it’s the best year we ever had,” says Gorman. “One of the best years a club in the county ever had.

“We won the county senior hurling title for the first time, but we won the minor title the same day.

“We won the junior football championship. We won the U16 hurling championship and the junior camogie title as well this year.”

There were celebrations following the senior title win, but looming football commitments kept the players on the straight and narrow.

“Our junior football final was on the following Friday night under lights,” says Gorman.

“We won that, and the Sunday after that we were in the Leinster junior football championship. We were beaten in that, though. Twelve of the senior hurlers are on the junior football team. There was always good work done at underage level, but the team management have been very good this year — Danny Owens is very good as manager, the team physical trainer’s been excellent, and all the lads are internal, they’re all members of the club.

“We’ve had a great attitude from the players — good discipline, good attendance at training, good challenge games. Everything’s gone well for us.”

There’s evidence to back that up. Killian Leonard headed to America earlier in the year and they thought they’d have to plan without him, but he came back in time for the Offaly semi-final against Birr.

Kilcormac/Killoughey had never beaten Birr in the championship, and their battle against the long-time powerhouse in Offaly hurling was in the melting pot as the clock ticked into injury time: level, with the next score likely to win the game.

“It was the first time we ever beat them at senior level,” says Gorman. “Who got the winning point in injury time? Killian Leonard, the man who came back from America.”

Everything going well, as Gorman says.

Coolderry broke through in Offaly last year after a long drought and made it to St Patrick’s Day and the All-Ireland final. Their journey was ended by a Liam Watson-powered Loughgiel, but it was a rising tide for clubs in Offaly. Kilcormac/Killoughey wouldn’t have seen a gulf between themselves and Coolderry in their clashes over the years; the latter side’s win over Oulart last year is a specific comfort.

“When they won last year, that’s something which gave us a lot of encouragement.

“And in fairness to them, we’d be fair rivals but they sent us a letter during the week wishing us all the best and saying that they’d be there to cheer us on this Sunday in the game with Oulart.”

It’s been a long week waiting until Sunday. Gorman says they’ve been counting down . . .

“The excitement is unbelievable. See, we’re on a bit of a roller-coaster, but in all honesty we’ve been keeping the preparations fairly low key.

“The only exception is the wagon wheel.”

Come again? “I don’t know if you know the song, ‘Rock Me Mama Like A Wagon Wheel’, but that’s our anthem.

“It started off the night of the county final and it’s become our song since that. And we have a wagon wheel in the team colours in the village, over in Feighery’s pub window.”

Don’t be surprised, then, if you hear a new version of an old Bob Dylan number around Nowlan Park tomorrow . . .

Headed down south to the land of the pines

And I’m thumbin’ my way into North Caroline

Starin’ up the road

Pray to God I see headlights

I made it down the coast in seventeen hours

Pickin’ me a bouquet of dogwood flowers

And I’m a hopin’ for Raleigh

I can see my baby tonight

So rock me mama like a wagon wheel

Rock me mama anyway you feel

Hey mama rock me


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