Offaly bandwagon rolls on in quest for sustainable hurling success

The Faithful beat Dublin on Wednesday to secure the Leinster U20 championship crown to set up All-Ireland title decider

The Offaly supporters couldn’t even wait for Wednesday evening’s Leinster Under-20 final to end before invading O’Moore Park. Twice they rushed the pitch in scenes that were one part joyous, one part alarming. On the third occasion, after full-time was officially sounded, thousands more came streaming out to get the afterparty started.

The voice on the loudspeaker tried and failed to cut through the chaos a couple of times to ask captain Dan Bourke to come and lift the cup. Of the 15,215 that travelled to Portlaoise, dumping cars on the highways and byways around the town over 90 minutes out from throw in, it seemed like they were nearly all from Offaly.

The Faithful bandwagon is a sight to behold and it will roll on to Kilkenny’s Nowlan Park and then Croke Park in the coming weekends for a couple of hugely significant finals. First up is the All-Ireland Under-20 final tomorrow week against the winners of Friday’s Munster final between holders Cork and Tipperary.

The following weekend, half a dozen of Leo O’Connor’s Under-20s will be part of the senior panel that takes on Laois in the Joe McDonagh Cup final.


It’s hard to say which is the more important final. A McDonagh Cup win would mean Leinster SHC hurling in 2025 but the bigger picture in Offaly is that they’re striving to join hurling’s elite again, and for it to be sustainable. Which is where this gifted group of under-20s, many of whom have competed in three Leinster finals in a row – minor (2022) and under-20 (2023 and 2024) – come in.

“There are 11 of the starting 15 from Wednesday evening that are underage again next year,” said O’Connor. “It’s huge, the experience they’re gaining now. It’s all learning, learning, learning.”

Few understand where Offaly have come from, and where they want to go, quite like O’Connor. Exactly 30 years ago he played for Limerick in the 1994 All-Ireland senior final, which Offaly won. Limerick rebuilt in the meantime and are the established force now while Offaly fell badly off the pace.

“It’s Offaly, that’s what we’re talking about, we’re not talking about [prioritising] the under-20s, or the senior team – it’s Offaly,” said O’Connor. “And it’s about getting back up. I went through this with Limerick. From our point of view, it’s development, development, development and thankfully these results keep coming.”

Both O’Connor and his senior counterpart Johnny Kelly look set to be without rising star forward Dan Ravenhill for the finals. The Durrow talent, who fired 1-4 in last year’s All-Ireland Under-20 final, began both of this season’s Under-20 and McDonagh Cup campaigns but suffered a bad hamstring injury against Laois while on senior duty and hasn’t played since.

Asked if he might be rushed back for the under-20 final, O’Connor shook his head.

“I doubt it, calling a spade a spade,” he said. “Dan has a long-term injury. I’m not going to risk him because the lad has a bright future ahead of him. There’s no way we’re going to risk Dan’s health.

“We could fast track it and try to see what happens but at the end of the day, it’s just risking his long-term future for short-term gain.”