OFFALY CHAMPIONS Coolderry yesterday upset expectations at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny by decisively defeating the favourites to win the club’s first senior Leinster title.
More clinical in their finishing, Coolderry kept the match beyond their opponents’ reach for virtually the entire second half. For Oulart, the scenes of despair at the end were understandable.
The club, whose manager Liam Dunne will be able earlier than expected to concentrate on the Wexford post to which he was recently appointed, have now lost two Leinster finals in the space of one year – their defeat in last season’s championship having been postponed until January because of last year’s snow.
It’s only the second time in eight seasons that a club from outside of Kilkenny has won the title and, having disposed of James Stephens in the quarter-finals, the Wexford club will feel that they blew a glorious chance of bring the Leinster crown back to the county for the first time in 15 years.
They started with a good deal more urgency and composure than Coolderry, seizing ball, getting clean strikes in and moving it quickly.
But it was to become emblematic of the afternoon that the favourites would struggle to turn possession and position into scores, whereas the Offaly club’s attack was clear-eyed and efficient when going forward.
The wides tally is a good indicator of what happened over the course of the hour. Oulart hit 14 and their opponents just five and that doesn’t even factor in the number of times, at least seven, the Wexford champions over-hit ball – either attempts at scores or imprecise deliveries intended to set free their forwards.
Coolderry goalkeeper Stephen Corcoran comfortably fielded everything that dropped into him and the contrast between this wastefulness and the economy of the winners would be the ultimate determining factor in the match.
Oulart’s early edge gave them a 0-3 to 0-1 lead after 10 minutes.
At a later stage Eoin Moore might have played less safe with the glimpse of goal that yielded the opening point, but, when he added a free shortly afterwards and Rory Jacob stretched the lead, the caution didn’t appear misplaced.
But as Coolderry began to find their rhythm their forwards reeled off four points in a row to take a lead – 0-5 to 0-3 – that would never be overhauled, although the match was level twice more.
Playing with a stiff breeze Oulart couldn’t regain the initiative and Moore managed five wides, including three from placed balls, before the break while at the other end their opponents picked off scores on shorter rations.
Brian Carroll, Cathal Parlon and Eoin Ryan were all on the scoreboard and Ryan – with six goals in the championship to date – nearly had a seventh but for a good save from Ben O’Connor.
Level at the interval despite having plenty of chances and with their defence – Paul Roche in particular – lording it under the high ball, Oulart must have wondered what more they could do. Still, they started the second half promisingly when a well constructed move saw Nolan equalise.
However, the roof was to fall in during a brutal two minutes in which they shipped 1-2, the value of their entire first-half total.
Parlon pounced on a defensive mistake, charged in on goal, appeared to have lost his chance, but persevered and flicked the ball into the net. Barry Teehan and Carroll quickly tacked on points and the favourites had to chase the match all the way to its unsuccessful conclusion.
The winners nearly had another goal when Ryan followed in a Parlon shot that had been saved, but it was disallowed.
The margin shifted throughout the second half, but never dropped below three. The wides kept spilling over the Coolderry end-line and, even though Roche came up to trim the widest deficit of seven by drilling a free into the left corner of Corcoran’s goal, that turned out to be the final score of the match with eight minutes plus injury-time remaining.
“Today is a very special day for me,” said Coolderry and former Tipperary manager Ken Hogan. “You go into a club a couple of years ago and you take them on by accident and its all history now because the players have worked so hard for it. I salute the players today because the players have earned it the hard way.”
Liam Dunne wasn’t making any excuses. “To come in a point down at half-time was a bitter pill, but conceding that goal gave them the leeway in the second half – but I’d have to say on the day Coolderry deserved their win – I’m not trying to be a nice fella because I’m not a nice fella, but I think they deserved it on the balance of play.
“It’s all about taking your chances and opportunities and we didn’t today.”
COOLDERRY: S Corcoran; B Kelly, T Corcoran, A Corcoran; K Brady, J Brady, B O’Meara; K Teehan, D King; B Carroll (0-3), B Teehan (0-1), M Corcoran; E Ryan (0-1), C Parlon (1-3), D Murray (0-6, 4f). Subs: K Connolly (0-1) for M Corcoran (46 mins), S Connolly for Kelly (54); M Bergin for K Brady (59).
OULART: B O’Connor; P Roche (1-0, free), K Rossiter, B Kehoe; D Redmond, D Stamp, L Prendergast; M Jacob S Murphy; F Cullen, G Sinnott, D Nolan (0-2); E Moore (0-4, 3f), R Jacob (0-1), N Kirwan (0-3, 2f). Subs: S Doyle (0-1) for Moore (41 mins); P Murphy for Cullen, D Mythen for R Jacob (both 53); A Kavanagh for Nolan (56).
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).