By Randal Scally
Niall Stack says his Tullamore team are eager to atone for last year’s Tullamore Court Hotel SFC final loss to Rhode.
Offaly’s two most successful football clubs will contest the Dowling Cup decider for the second year-in-a-row on Sunday, with Tullamore having the opportunity to make amends for their 1-7 to 1-9 defeat 12 months ago.
“Finals are there to be won. Nobody remembers the losers,” the Tullamore manager stresses.
“We had a lot of hurt after losing last year. There was only a kick of a ball in it which made it all the harder to accept. But we’ve regrouped well and have blooded a few more players this season. We’ve a nice blend of youth and experience, and are where we wanted to be at the start of the year. We think we’ve improved, but the proof will be in the pudding on Sunday.
“You can only admire Rhode for what they’ve achieved over the years. They’re the benchmark for every other team and have been for a long time.”
Now in his second year at the helm, Stack has already delivered silverware this season in the guise of a first Division 1 League title in 27 years and has guided the Blues back to the county final without losing a game.
“We targeted the league because we saw how other clubs were able to transfer league success to the championship. We didn’t have the benefit of a league campaign last year because of Covid and that was another reason why we wanted to do well in it.
“But in contrast to last year when we played less than 10 games, including challenge matches, we’ve had too many games this year between football and hurling at senior, senior ‘B’, U20 and minor level. Whereas there was a famine last year, it’s being a feast this year to our detriment.
“My biggest stress as manager is trying to get a fully-fit team out on the field. It’s a huge challenge to keep players injury-free when they’re playing so many games.”
Elaborating on the club’s recent hectic schedule, the Mullingar-based Garda detective added: “Since August 24, most of our adult players have been playing three games per week. Over half of our panel are U20 and most of those lads haven’t got a break between last year and this year’s competitions.
“While we always insist on giving each competition the respect it deserves, you would have to question the wisdom of running the U20 championship in the middle of the senior championship and so soon after the conclusion of last year’s U20 championship. We looked for it to be postponed, only to be told that it was going ahead.”
The most high-profile casualty of Tullamore’s busy schedule is All-Ireland U20 winner Cormac Egan who Stack says is “gone for a long time” with a hamstring injury. Since lockdown restrictions were lifted at the start of the summer, the dual star’s services have been in constant demand and it now appears as if all that effort has taken a toll on his fitness.
“That’s where Rhode have a clear advantage. It’s that bit harder for the dual clubs,” maintains the Tullamore boss, who won the Dowling Cup as a player in 2000, ’02 and ’04.
Despite a mounting injury list – three other players picked up knocks in the semi-final win over Ferbane – Stack acknowledges that Tullamore are in a good place at the moment after their recent minor and U20 triumphs.
“We’re starting to reap the rewards of the great work that has been done at underage level over the last 10 years. We have a lot of talent coming through thanks to people like Paul Dillane and Ken Furlong who have been driving the underage. But we’re not getting carried away at the same time.”
With their second team playing Edenderry in the JFC final on Saturday, it could yet prove to be a memorable weekend for the county town outfit.
“It would mean the world to this club if we could win a senior championship. Eight years is a long time for a club of our size to be waiting for one,” continues Stack, whose selectors are James Buckley, Gary Heffernan and James Keane.
“Last year, we lost the SFC and JFC finals and we don’t want that to happen again. It would be lovely to win the double like we did in 2013. That came on the back of us winning the minor in 2012, but we didn’t build on it. The heavier conditions you get at this time of year will probably suit Rhode better, but we know what to expect and are focused on going one step further than last year.”