Owens adopts yes-we-can Obama spirit
GAA:Sometimes you find yourself in the strangest of seats when the music stops. When Brian Cowen drove up to the Áras in February 2011 to dissolve the Dáil and call for a general election, it tipped and toppled the first domino in a train that would lead to as surreal a day as Danny Owens has ever known.
Cowen’s decision not to contest the election left open the seat into which his brother Barry duly slid and since Barry Cowen was vacating the chairmanship of Offaly county council to become a TD, it meant fellow Fianna Fáil councillor Owens was the next man in.
So far, so what, says you. But check the date. February 2011 turned out to be just three months shy of the visit to Co Offaly of Barack Obama, which meant glad-handing and flesh-pressing a-go-go for the local dignitaries.
And no local was more a dignitary than the chairman of the county council. All of which leaves Danny Owens with a big call to make – should his team Kilcormac-Killoughey follow up their first county title with a first Leinster title on Sunday, what will have been the bigger deal?
“Well that’s a six-marker,” he smiles. “I thought we were only going to be asked two-markers!
“Meeting Barack Obama was a great thrill and a great honour indeed to be chairman of Offaly county council at the time but that was then and this is now and we’re in a Leinster final.
“If we were to win on Sunday it would be fairy-tale stuff. It would be a dream come true. It would be something very, very special.”
The fairy-tale has been a while in the telling. Kilcormac-Killoughey came together as a club in 1986 but although they’ve been rattling around the upper echelons of Offaly hurling for most of that time, they never actually managed a county title until this year.
It wasn’t for the want of trying either – over the past decade alone they lost three finals and six semi-finals, as well as gathering up more than their share of underage titles.
Owens, an All-Ireland winner with Offaly in 1982 and 1985, watched the defeats year after year and shared in the misery from afar.
“I would have been a supporter in previous years but they had gone close a couple of times, particularly in 2007 against Birr. They probably should have won that day and in fairness to Birr, they went on and played in the All-Ireland final afterwards. I suppose there was a lot of disappointment over the years going so close but most of those semi-finals and two of the finals they lost to Birr.
“Birr were the kingpins, not only of Offaly but of Leinster and won four All-Irelands. That was always a problem for anybody in the county just to get past Birr in those years. Thankfully we got through them, beat them with a last-minute point in the semi-final this year. All the hard work paid off from start to finish.”
Lose for long enough and you can come to accept that that’s just how it goes. But under Owens, this was the year Kilcormac-Killoughey shouted stop. Oulart-The-Ballagh await in Nowlan Park on Sunday, the end of the rainbow for a side that had seen nothing but cloud for as long as any of them could remember.
“We sat down to analyse where we were at at the start of this year and why we’ve been losing matches over the years. We addressed some of those issues at the start. Our championship was won in the months of February, March and April really, when we set the ground work to improve the areas that we were falling down in over the years and then it built from there and the confidence built.
“Over the years we were found wanting when it came to the clinch, in the last 10 minutes of big games. There was a lack of confidence there. Confidence was there this year because they started doing things well and they corrected a lot of the problems that let us down in the past. The confidence grew from that and they had that self-belief in the end that they could do it and that’s what you need in big matches.”
There’s been none bigger in their history than the one they’ll play on Sunday. Even Owens will probably allow that he’s seen no bigger day if they manage to pull it off.