By Randal Scally
The local rivalry that exists between Clodiagh Gaels and Tullamore adds spice to Saturday’s Molloy Environmental Systems SHC ‘B’ final.
That’s according to Clodiagh Gaels manager Paul Murphy who, as fate would have it, will get to manage a team in a county final in his home pitch of Birr.
“It’s great for the two clubs to be in the final. I wasn’t expecting it to be fixed for Birr to be honest. All the players are very familiar with each other from having gone to secondary school together. They’re local rivals and it gives everyone something to talk about,” he enthused.
“We’re really looking forward to it. It’s fantastic to be involved in a big game like this in the middle of November.”
It has been a rollercoaster of a season for the Killeigh-Killurin club who are hoping to emulate their IHC success of five years ago when Tullamore’s Damien Fox was at the helm. They were installed as championship favourites after recording an impressive 5-13 to 2-16 victory over Tullamore in July’s Division 2 League final, only for the Blues to turn the tables in the opening round of the championship a few weeks later.
A surprise loss to Clara in a game which produced six red cards put them under pressure to qualify for the knockout stages and when they trailed Kilcormac/Killoughey by 0-8 to 0-13 at half-time in their final group match, they were on very thin ice. But the Gaels fought back in the second half to earn a 0-18 each draw, which was enough to see them qualify for the semi-finals.
With the pressure off somewhat and Dwayne Dunne firing 0-11, Clodiagh Gaels returned to top form with a 0-23 to 0-16 victory over Lusmagh last Saturday week to book their place in the final. It means they are just 60 minutes from completing a league and championship double.
Reflecting on the campaign so far, Murphy said: “Like everyone else, we didn’t have a pre-season because of Covid, so we used the league as our pre-season and preparation for the championship, and it went well.
“We got through to the final and were lucky enough to win it. It was played on a fabulous summer’s evening in O’Connor Park. The ground was hard and the ball was hopping. Tullamore scored more points than us, but it was the goals that were the difference in the end.
“Mark Dillon scored three of them, but unfortunately we’ve lost both him and Aaron Dunne for the final through injury. Mark is out with a foot injury and Aaron did his cruciate while playing for the juniors. On the plus side, it’s great to have both Liam Langton and Aaron Flanagan back from their injury layoffs.
“Liam was out for eight weeks after getting injured against Tullamore in the first round of the championship, but is now about 80% fit, while Aaron was sidelined for nine weeks after suffering a recurrence of a hamstring injury while playing for Offaly against Dublin in the Leinster U20HC.
“While the injuries haven’t helped, they gave other players an opportunity and we’re exactly where we wanted to be at the start of the year.”
He continues: “I was very pleased with our semi-final performance. We got on top from the start and were convincing winners in the end. The players drove it, the half-back line in particular. Lusmagh threw the kitchen sink at us in the second half, but we finished the stronger.
“We needed that win because our form hadn’t been great up until then.”
The affable Birr man is under no illusions about the task facing his team this weekend.
“Tullamore are an experienced outfit. They were always tough opposition when I played against them for Birr. I know their manager, Kevin Martin, well. He’s a winner and a great hurling man. Tullamore are the form team in the championship and they’re confidence is high. But the county final will take on a life of its own and we’re hopeful the result will go our way.”
Despite not making his senior championship debut for Birr until he was 26, Paul won four county SHC medals, four Leinster club medals and two All-Ireland club titles in a career which spanned 10 years – 1990 to 2000. He then served as a selector under the great Pad Joe Whelahan from 2000 to ’03, during which the St Brendan’s Park outfit won a four-in-a-row of Offaly SHC titles and back-to-back All-Ireland club crowns.
As manager of Rathdowney-Errill, Murphy won two Laois SHC titles in 2006 and ’08. He subsequently guided his home club to a county SHC final appearance in 2011, only to come up short against Coolderry. He also had spells in charge of Seir Kieran and Rosenallis before taking over Clodiagh Gaels.
The Clodiagh Gaels manager is full of praise for his selectors Brian Lawlor and Eamonn Keenan. “They’re two great hurling men. Our job is to get the best out of the players and that’s what we’ll be trying to do again on Saturday.”
Paths to the final
Round 1: Tullamore 1-14 Clodiagh Gaels 0-12
Round 2: Tullamore 2-21 Kilcormac/Killoughey 3-17
Round 3: Tullamore 0-22 Clara 0-19
Round 4: Tullamore 5-19 Shinrone 1-10
Round 5: Tullamore 1-20 Lusmagh 0-16
Semi-final: Tullamore 2-15 Clara 0-14
Round 1: Clodiagh Gaels 0-12 Tullamore 1-14
Round 2: Clodiagh Gaels 2-18 Shinrone 1-9
Round 3: Clodiagh Gaels 4-22 Lusmagh 0-22
Round 4: Clodiagh Gaels 1-12 Clara 1-13
Round 5: Clodiagh Gaels 0-18 Kilcormac/Killoughey 0-18
Semi-final: Clodiagh Gaels 0-23 Lusmagh 0-16
Adam Cleary, Michael Feeney, Niall Houlihan, Aidan Bracken, Aaron Leavy, Ger Crowe, Cormac Martin, Diarmuid Egan, Ger Treacy, James Houlihan, Shane Dooley, Jack Dooley, Daniel Fox, Shane Kelly, Michael Fox, Paul Kelly, Ciaran Egan, Aaron Hensey, Luke Egan, Jay Sheerin, Peter Fox, Brian Hogan, Hugh Treacy, Dylan Hensey, Gareth Mann, Kevin Waters, Ciaran Waters, Kevin Mann, Cormac Egan.
Kevin Martin (manager), Pee Kelly, Sean Aherne, John O’Sullivan.
Clodiagh Gaels panel
Kevin Kinahan (24, Truck Driver), Killian O’Brien (35, Civil Servant), Dylan Hyland (24, Construction), Peter Walsh (23, Engineer), Joey Keenaghan (22, Jones Engineering), Clint Horan (24, Manufacturing Engineer), Diarmuid Walsh (20, Student), Cathal Curran (23, Teacher), Ryan Casey (24, Student), Shane Dolan (25, Carpenter), Cathal Brady (21, Student), David Buckley (23, Garda), Conor Langton (22, Student), Dwayne Dunne (33, Fitter / Fabricator), Liam Langton (24, Construction Worker), Conor Brophil (22, Student), Ruairi Dunne (18, Student), Sean Beatty (21, Financial Advisor KPMG), Nigel Cunningham (34, Sales Advisor), Emmet Curley (20, Student), Sean Rattigan (18, Student), Aaron Flanagan (20, Student), Tom Dunne (29, Garda), Billy Gorman (18, Student), Mark Kelly (18, Student), Peter Berry (42, Valeter), Gavin Sheil (30, Engineering), Ollie Dunne (21, Scaffolder), Padraic Horan (33, Operations Manager), Joel Troy (18, Student), Jack Kelly (18, Student), Mark Dillon (20, Construction Worker), Aaron Dunne (20, Storeman), Daniel Paisley (26, Military Police).
Paul Murphy (manager), Eamonn Keenan (selector), Brian Lawlor (selector), Declan Foy (physio), Kevin Hinch (kitman).