Brave and Faithful

'Getting to a final was badly needed' - Watching on after second ACL injury in 18 months

Offaly hurler Oisín Kelly will miss out on the county football final with Ferbane this weekend.

SINCE 2012, RHODE have contested every county in the Offaly senior football championship, winning seven titles along the way. And for the last three years, Tullamore have been the other finalist where they emerged as champions in 2021.

anton-sullivan-scores-a-goal Rhode's Anton Sullivan scoring a goal against Ferbane in the 2018 county final. Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Ferbane have also featured in that period. They contested the 2016, 2018 and 2019 deciders, triumphing against Rhode at the third time of asking to end a 25-year wait for a championship crown. They’re back in county championship contention this weekend, facing down Tullamore this time with a chance to establish a place for themselves beside the Big Two clubs in Offaly.

Offaly hurler, and local Ferbane star, Oisín Kelly scored a point in that victorious final in 2019. But there’s a different job in store for him this time around. He will have no involvement in proceedings on the pitch as he continues his recovery from a second ACL injury in 18 months.

“It’s very tough to watch but I’m used to it at this stage,” he tells The 42 about five months on from the surgery that will hopefully put his knee troubles to rest for good.

It was while he was on county duty that Kelly was felled by the dreaded ligament injury again. Offaly’s Division 2A victory against Carlow in March was almost over when Kelly was forced off with the cruciate curse. 

The initial stage of grief was a cruel blow for him to face, particularly since it was in such close proximity with the first ACL encounter. And although there’s county final fever in the air at home, it was never in his plan to get back for the club campaign this year.

“No, especially because it’s my second time. I really didn’t want to rush back. The first month that I did it, I hardly thought about sport because I was that pissed off with it. And then I stopped feeling sorry for myself and got back on the horse to start doing a bit. I got together with the physio and a couple of the managers.

“We just set out a bit of a plan and I’m going to take my time and make sure it’s perfect. I won’t be rushing back into anything.

“I’ve chatted with a lot of people and asked myself a million times what the reason was. You could put it down to not getting a lot of time to do gym work because there was a lot of matches. I could put it down to hard luck or genetics because my brother has done his cruciate. My father had bad knees growing up playing sport as well. It’s a combination of things and it’s hard to know really.

“The best you can do is keep the strength in it, keep the flexibility in it and look after yourself to give yourself the best chance of it not reoccurring.”

With such a long-term injury of this kind, a natural separation understandably follows between the patient and their teammates. Paths diverge as the injured player proceeds down the long road of recovery while the rest carry on with the collective training and match schedules. 

Kelly felt that this year with Ferbane, and his hurling club Belmont. He missed the group while he was nursing through the post-operation pain, but did his best to attend the sessions when he could.

oisin-kelly Oisín Kelly in action for Offaly earlier this year. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

He was in O’Connor Park two weeks ago when Ferbane denied Rhode a 12th consecutive county final appearance. The sides met at the same stage in last year’s championship, where Rhode prevailed after a penalty shootout. In 2020, Tullamore inflicted the same shootout heartache on Ferbane in the county semi-final.

But this time, extra-time was enough for Ferbane to conquer their demons. Ferbane’s Joe Maher kicked a point to force the extra-time, Anton Sullivan missed a penalty for Rhode and Ferbane found newfound energy where the defending champions succumbed.

“When we won it two years ago, we had a young team at the time,” says Kelly.

“I suppose we all thought it was a great opportunity for us to go and kick on. And then in the last few years, we felt we’ve underachieved a little bit. And we had some hard luck: we lost two penalty shootouts in semi-finals. So, getting back this year is a real boost because after the couple of disappointment in the hurling and football, to get to a final was badly needed.

“Rhode are a brilliant team. They’re around a while now but their older players are brilliant and they have some great young players coming through. They’re a really hard team to beat so that’s down to the boys digging it out the last day.”

The area surrounding Ferbane and Belmont is a rural part of Offaly where “everyone knows each other,” according to Kelly. The dual player life is a common choice among GAA folks, and Kelly counts eight of the Ferbane starting team who also play hurling.

The small ball game has always been his preferred sport but football brings plenty of enjoyment to him too. It’s on the football pitch where the pressure eases off a bit for Kelly and he has the space to play more freely.

It will be the supporter’s role for him again today as Ferbane aim to highest heights in Offaly. Kelly says that Tullamore are “the talk of the county” considering their underage success in recent times. It’s also home to emerging star, and All-Ireland U20 winner, Cormac Egan. 

But Ferbane also have some tricks to throw their way later today.

“We would always fancy ourselves and our ability but Tullamore are a very strong team,” says Kelly. “They’ve been in the last three county finals for a reason and we’re going to have to play our best. And so will they. It’ll be a brilliant game.

“We have some deadly forwards like Joe Maher, Cian Johnston and we’re a very well balanced hungry team. But look, Tullamore will be hungry too and they know what it takes to win.”

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

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel