Coolderry look to defy odds in showdown with Rynagh’s

All across Ireland, there are hurling clubs that draw from a small, rural area, and who are far more successful than logic would suggest they should be.

Ballyhale Shamrocks are of course the poster child for this, but others like Sarsfields in Galway, Mount Leinster Rangers in Carlow and Toomevara in Tipperary all fly the flag equally well in terms of punching above their weight.

However, it could be argued that when it comes to making the best of relatively scant human resources, Coolderry’s record can stand comparison with any club over the length and breadth of Ireland.

All of the clubs mentioned above have excellent records in their respective senior championships, but they also tend to be consistently competitive at underage level. They might not have large urban population bases to pick from, but they will usually be able to find somewhere between 15 and 20 hurlers at every age group, usually with one or two exceptional players in the mix somewhere, and that tends to be enough to generate a county final win every so often.

Coolderry, in contrast, had their golden generation that won four minor “A” titles in five seasons between 1997 and 2001, and outside of that vintage, underage success has been incredibly rare for the club. Equally, take away that particular group – several of which will be togged out for Sunday’s final – and most Offaly panels, underage or senior, will have a player or two from the club, but hardly ever any more than that.

Partially for that reason, while Coolderry are very frequent visitors to Offaly senior finals, they rarely arrive on that big day with the weight of heavy favouritism on their shoulders. A decade ago, when the aforementioned group of successful underage players reached their peak, they proved in Offaly and beyond that they were a formidable force.

Equally, it’s probably fair to say that their team which won three senior championships in a row from 1961 to 1963, containing famous names such as Mick Kirwan, Tony Dooley, Brendan, Colman and Billy Loughnane, and of course the legendary Phil ‘Sonny’ Ryan, probably had a similar aura.

Outside of those two groups, not so much. St Rynagh’s, Kinnitty, Seir Kieran, Birr, Kilcormac-Killoughey – all of these clubs have gone through phases where they were considered definitively the strongest senior hurling team in the county for a number of years in succession.

Coolderry are rarely if ever considered to be out of contention, but for a club that is so successful so often, instances in their history where they’ve been considered the clear and definitive top team for a sustained length of time have been rare.

And so, it is this Sunday at Bord na Móna Park, as they prepare to try and deny St Rynagh’s a third successive Seán Robbins Cup.

The manner of St Rynagh’s win over Kilcormac-Killoughey in the deferred 2020 decider suggested that Ken Hogan’s side had a little bit to spare over the chasing pack in the Faithful County, yet quietly and methodically Coolderry have moulded a team that has produced some excellent hurling and racked up some very big scores in the process, despite a comparatively light contingent of county players.

Logic would suggest that St Rynagh’s should have too much depth, too much pace and too much quality in key positions to be denied this weekend.

But Coolderry have never allowed logic to hold them back before. There’s no reason why should suddenly be constrained by it now.

- Kevin Egan