Offaly champions Kilcormac-Killoughey’s unlikely run to All-Ireland club hurling final title on final lap

Offaly champions may have lost their best player in Daniel Currams but will take it in their stride

 Kilcormac Killoughey skipper  Ciaran Slevin, winner of the AIB Leinster club provincial hurling player of the year. Photograph: David Maher/Sportsfile

Kilcormac Killoughey skipper Ciaran Slevin, winner of the AIB Leinster club provincial hurling player of the year. Photograph: David Maher/Sportsfile

Thu, Mar 14, 2013, 06:00

There’s no doubting the loss of Daniel Currams – perhaps their most dangerous forward, who has been averaging about a goal per game: last Sunday, in a final challenge game against a Kilkenny under-21 side, Currams sustained a broken arm, and with that misses Sunday’s All-Ireland club hurling final against St Thomas’ from Galway.

So Kilcormac-Killoughey start with a definite disadvantage, but if this means defying the odds then it’s certainly something they are well used to. In fact it’s hard to say when they demonstrated this the most, such has been their almost consistently unlikely run to Sunday’s final – with a growing treasure of unexpected success along the way.

It possibly began when winning their first Offaly title, back on October 7th – the same day, actually, that Kilcormac-Killoughey officially opened their new clubhouse.

There was a bit of a celebration party laid on for that evening anyway and yet when favourites St Rynagh’s jumped into a three-point lead, it seemed likely that Kilcormac-Killoughey’s emergence as a winning force in Offaly hurling would have to wait another year.

Even their captain Ciarán Slevin, typically a model of reliance, was missing some easy frees – before a Currams goal suddenly brought them back into it. They added 1-6 without reply in the second half.

They followed that with an equally unlikely run through the province, capped off with a stunning Leinster final victory over favourites Oulart-The Ballagh.

Rank outsiders
That this came on the back of Offaly junior football and minor hurling championships, and a senior hurling league, it would have been fair to assume that was enough for one season. Instead, they went into their All-Ireland semi-final against Munster champions Thurles Sarsfields, and despite being rated rank outsiders at 5 to 1, delivered another display of hurling superlatives, with Currams again popping up for the crucial goal in the course of the six-point win.

While that does further underline the scale of his loss, it’s not like Kilcormac-Killoughey don’t have the players to step up the mark – especially the likes of Slevin. Indeed he remains their top scorer, notching up 1-19 during their Leinster championship run, which helped earned him the title of provincial hurler of the year.

In collecting that award last week, Slevin spoke about this unlikely run to Sunday’s final: part of the problem with that is the uncertain nature of this final, given St Thomas’ are also on the All-Ireland stage for the first time, having claimed a first Galway title.

“It’s hard to know,” says Slevin, addressing the St Thomas’ challenge first. “They seem to be big around the middle, and their forward line especially, who seem to have been around for a good bit.

“We watched them in the Galway county final, and do play a nice brand of hurling. Their forwards seem to move around a good bit, no one really sticks to their positions. And David Bourke, James Regan, Conor Cooney all played for Galway last year, and have that great experience of playing in Croke Park before. Big then it’s a big day for their club, first time in an All-Ireland final, and like that in the same boat as ourselves.”

Extra test
St Thomas’ might feel they have the slight advantage of an extra test, given their semi-final against reigning All-Ireland champions Loughgiel Shamrocks went to a replay: the Galway club racked up 1-25 the first time (which included extra-time), then won the replay by eight points, and come to Croke Park on Sunday with their own fascinating backdrop (manager John Burke boasting six sons on the panel, with David, Darragh, Cathal, Kenneth, Seán and Eanna).

Yet it’s exactly the sort of challenge the Offaly club will relish. Managed by Danny Owens, the former All-Ireland medal winner, they’re certainly not under any great expectations as they look to emulate Birr, the only other Offaly club to win the All-Ireland.

Indeed there was probably pressure on Coolderry this time last year, and the fact they lost to Loughgiel keeps expectations firmly grounded: “We just said we’d try to win a county championship and if we did that, anything else would be a bonus,” says Slevin. “I suppose we have come in under the radar, but then Offaly hurling can’t be that bad, with two clubs making the last two All-Ireland finals. I think our lads just gelled together this year.”