A novel county final day in Offaly and 'marvellous year' with Leinster-winning minors

Johnny Pilkington looks ahead to the Offaly SHC final between Kilcormac-Killoughey and Shinrone.

O'Connor Park in Tullamore.
O'Connor Park in Tullamore.
Image: Tom Maher/INPHO

TODAY’S OFFALY SENIOR hurling final will feature one team who has won four titles since 2012 and has reached the decider six times in the same time frame.

Kilcormac-Killoughey have become something of a modern powerhouse in Offaly hurling, having won just their first senior championship crown in 2012. But they’re a regular sight on county final day by now, and have also achieved on the provincial stage. They won the 2012 Leinster final, reaching the All-Ireland decider the following St Patrick’s Day, and played in two more Leinster finals in 2014 and 2017.

In the other corner of the ring lies a comparatively unknown prospect. Shinrone are preparing to compete in the top-tier showpiece for the first time since 1960, and prior to this year’s championship, they hadn’t won a knockout game in 10 years.

Those backgrounds guarantee a novel pairing in the final today but according to Faithful County legend Johnny Pilkington, Shinrone aren’t entirely a surprise inclusion.

The two-time All-Ireland winner during Offaly’s golden period in the 90s has always kept his finger firmly on the pulse of the local hurling scene. 

“They’ve [Shinrone] always been there as such in the background,” Pilkington tells The42, explaining Shinrone’s path to the final, ”and even at the start of this year, the two favourites would have been St Rynagh’s, who were going for four-in-a-row, and Kilcormac have been the dominant team over the last 10 or 15 years.

“But underneath that group are about four or five teams, and everyone was saying that any of those four or five teams could easily get to a county final and also have the capabilities of winning it.

“Shinrone did play against St Rynagh’s in the quarter-final and I thought they played well. They have a good brand of hurling, but they were mixed in the group stages. They got over a Coolderry side who wouldn’t be in that middle group. And they also lost heavily to Belmont in the group stages. So, their form going into the final hasn’t been hectic.

“So, Shinrone, no more than the others, could have possibly got to the county final.”

johnny-pilkington Johnny Pilkington. Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

Pilkington is also an All-Ireland winner with his club Birr, helping them to reach the summit four times as a player. They reached the semi-finals of the championship this year where they were outmatched by Kilcormac-Killoughey in a game which Pilkington laments was “over after about 10 minutes.” Birr did manage a rally in the second half, but their surge came too late.

Pilkington is quite familiar with the hurling culture in Kilcormac-Killoughey, having managed them in the past.

kilcorma-kiloughey-team-during-the-national-anthem The Kilcormac-Killoughey team before the 2017 Leinster semi-final. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“When I was over them, they had a good core of players but they were just missing a couple of forwards with workrate and energy up front at that time. We had lads with energy but probably mightn’t have had the finishing on them. Trevor Fletcher [Shinrone manager] hurled for us the second year I was there. He was corner forward in that second year and he did bring that bit of class to our forward line.

“After that, they did bring on a few lads to make a huge difference in terms of attitude. Over that 10-year period, they’ve had a fine set of lads who are strong, physical, well able to hurl and then the introduction of young lads with pace and energy, just gave them a lovely blend.”

offaly-celebrate-at-full-time The Offaly minors after winning the 2022 Leinster final. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

More recently, Pilkington has worked with the Offaly minors and served as a selector for their incredible 2022 campaign which yielded a first Leinster title in 22 years as well as an All-Ireland final appearance. They came close to reaching the pinnacle, but were cruelly undone by a late goal against the victors Tipperary.

Johnny Kelly was recently appointed as the Offaly senior manager to replace Michael Fennelly, as they look to continue their resurgence by trying to navigate their way out of the Joe McDonagh Cup and get back to the Liam MacCarthy competition.

If they are to rediscover the glory they enjoyed in Pilkington’s era down the line, achieving more underage success is crucial.

“It was a marvellous year and they’re a marvellous bunch of lads. I didn’t really know anything about them until I went in this year. And I think what people liked about them, no more than our U20 lads last year, was the way they played. They all worked hard on the field, they all had the skill level then and the physicality.

Gavin Cooney
Reports From Qatar

Get Gavin's exclusive writing and analysis from the 2022 Fifa World Cup

Become a Member

“It’s something we’ve been lacking in Offaly hurling in all grades over the last 10 or 15 years. In a county like Offaly, we’re just crying out for [this]. And you could see the support right throughout. There was absolutely no way that a Kilkenny-Tipperary All-Ireland or a Kilkenny-Offaly Leinster final would have brought Portlaoise to a standstill.

“It’s great to see what the GAA can bring. I was delighted with the way Offaly played in the All-Ireland final, and with all the lads who went out to O’Moore Park in front of 25,000 or 26,000 people (in the Leinster final) and it didn’t phase them. We know now that these boys can deal with that kind of pressure and atmosphere.”

Naturally, Pilkington would love to see Birr contesting the final today but a small comfort for that sting is that the club is organising a major fundraiser to celebrate the memories of their All-Ireland-winning days in the 90s. A number of top hurling figures will be attending their ‘Reeling In The Hurling Years’ event later this month.

“It’s just to raise a big amount of money to add on to our facilities here. We’re bringing in a Reeling In The Years to go back and relive the glory days of the 90′s for both Birr and Offaly. It has a bit of everything, and hopefully it’ll be an entertaining night.”

WhatsApp Image 2022-09-29 at 5.07.35 PM

The42 is on Instagram! Tap the button below on your phone to follow us!

About the author:

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel