Coolderry’s Eoin Ryan tries to break away from St Rynagh’s duo Dermot Shortt and Matthew Maloney during the 2021 Offaly SHC final.

Offaly’s hurling clubs ranked as Rynagh’s retain top spot

Kevin Egan

The “off season” in the GAA world grows shorter and shorter. Clara, Shamrocks and Clonbullogue are all preparing to continue their 2021 season into the new year, while preparations for the upcoming Walsh and O’Byrne Cups are currently well underway for the county senior panels.

However, this is as much of a window as we will get to sit back, take stock and assess the lie of the land across the county, in the form of our usual end of season club rankings. For the three clubs named above, there is still the potential to do more and climb up another few rungs on the ladder, but in the case of Shamrocks in particular, a huge upset would be needed if they were to advance to the All-Ireland series. So, on that basis, we’re going to kick off our rankings with those of the county’s 21 hurling clubs.

(1) St Rynagh’s

No surprise with the top selection, even though their form dipped spectacularly in the latter stages of this year’s Offaly senior championship. The delayed 2020 county final saw Ken Hogan’s side put in a scintillating performance to win very convincingly, and some of their round robin hurling was excellent. Yet they had to ride their luck in the county final and, consequently, no-one saw their incredible, heartbreaking display against Ballyhale Shamrocks coming over the horizon.

The future looks bright for the club too, both in the short term and further down the road, based on the exceptional group of U-15s they had this year.

(2) Kilcormac-Killoughey

Didn’t hurl for long stretches of their county semi-final, yet came incredibly close to sending their clash with Rynagh’s into extra-time. Had they done that, they would have had all the momentum and been fancied to come through. Getting the management teams right for 2022 will be crucial, whether that’s a blank slate or tweaking the existing set-up.

They have by far the best underage talent in the county, while Cillian and Cathal Kiely have the potential to be dominant players in central positions, if things are put together correctly.

(3) Coolderry

Ending the year with the Pat Carroll Cup for winning the league is at least some tangible reward for what was an incredible year for the club. No club in Offaly, football or hurling, comes close to maximizing their resources in the way Coolderry do, as evidenced by the fact that they still use around half a dozen players that were on the field when they won their first county championship in 18 years back in 2004. How Brian Culbert can bring them on further in 2022 is another matter, however.

(4) Shinrone

There’s little or nothing between the clubs ranked from four to six on this list, though Shinrone probably have more depth and more quality than the other two by some margin. For about ten years now, we’ve been saying that their only issue is finding a way to perform in a knockout game. Nothing has changed.

(5) Birr

Their second team winning the intermediate title is incredibly significant, since lack of depth has been a huge problem in the town club for some time now. A lot of the same players were also heavily involved in the club’s good run in the U-20 championship, so now it’s just about taking them on from there. A lack of really elite attackers to back up Eoghan Cahill is likely to continue to curtail them, however.

(6) Belmont

Injuries to key players, most notably Oisín Kelly, cut them off at the knees this year – albeit they had left themselves with a lot to do even before the county player got hurt, thanks to their heavy first round defeat to Coolderry.

They have a lot of the pieces in place, so it’ll be interesting to see if Arien Delaney can far a little better than Ollie Baker managed last time out, particularly if they get a little bit more luck in terms of health.

(7) Ballinamere

2022 is absolutely massive for this club, as realistically the time has come for them to really step up and be counted in senior company. Hiding behind the youth of the team and the difficulty of managing a dual culture eventually becomes a weight around your neck after a certain period, and there is more than enough talent in this club to start picking up wins here and there against the half a dozen sides already named here. Nobody expects them to win the Seán Robbins Cup, but that’s how these young players should be thinking.

(8) Kinnitty

Winning the 2020 Senior B championship means it was officially a good year for the club, and they held their senior status into the bargain. Scoring simply doesn’t come easily to them, however, and two goals in five games is a key indicator of what Denis Kelly needs to try and address in the coming year.

(9) Clodiagh Gaels

Didn’t pull up any trees in the group stages of the championship, but found their form with a big win over Lusmagh and then overcame a poor shooting display to fall over the line in the final against Tullamore. Would they have beaten Tullamore if the Blues had a clear run at the county final, instead of having to think about football the next day? Probably, but it’s hard to know. Their age profile would suggest they’re ready to try their hand at senior level, however.

(10) Seir Kieran

It’s hard to see an obvious way to progress for the Clareen club, who have a handful of very capable players but nowhere near enough to consistently compete at senior level. There’s no shortcut through a demographic problem either, so until they find the next Johnny Dooley or Joe Bergin, holding on to senior status is likely to be a challenge for them.

(11) Tullamore

A really impressive year on all fronts, proving that sometimes simply winning games can carry teams on the crest of a wave through seemingly impossible obstacles. There will be some tough conversations had in the club over the winter as they prepare to try and build a dynasty on the football field while still competing well in hurling. But it’s a nice challenge to have.

(12) Drumcullen

Depending on your perspective, there is anything from seven to ten clubs in Offaly capable of senior hurling, and most would pitch their tent on the smaller end of that scale. Either way, Drumcullen simply don’t seem to have enough to be part of that group and they will be a lot more comfortable at Senior B level net year. Losing games by 6-27 to 0-9, or 2-24 to 0-10, is no fun for anyone.

(13) Lusmagh

Played some really nice hurling in the opening two rounds of the championship and remain a very attractive side to watch, but it’s hard to win a championship if you consistently concede 20 scores in every game. On the other side of the coin, it’s a lot easier to work with a panel where there are five or six decent players capable of taking a score, as is the case with the small parish.

(14) Clara

The Magpies should feel quite content with their efforts this year, as with the exception of one game against Shinrone, they were incredible competitive in every fixture and should hold no fears against any opponent next time around. This club offers yet more evidence of the merits of hurling and football feeding off each other’s success. Add in an U-15 ‘B’ title and there’s a real sense that hurling is on the most secure footing in the club than it has been for some time.

(15) Shamrocks

If they turn around and beat Mooncoin, we’d happily bump them up another couple of places on this list, but if we’re to be honest, nothing they’ve done so far would suggest that this is on the cards. As of yet, they still haven’t even won a championship, and while they’ll be favourites for next year’s intermediate title, clubs like Shinrone and Carrig & Riverstown won’t be easily swept aside either. For the sake of some of the best young hurlers in the county, it would be good to see them play at a higher level.

(16) Carrig & Riverstown

With two league titles and a Junior ‘B’ title racked up this year, it was a good year for silverware for Carrig & Riverstown, who will feel that they were every bit as good as Shamrocks this year. Both clubs looked very impressive in the group stages, both succumbed to shock defeats to Birr, and both will feel that the stage is set for them to take the big prize in 2022.

(17) Brosna Gaels

They’ve a long way to travel to get back to where they want to be in terms of status, but winning this year’s junior title, albeit in an underwhelming December contest that was dominated by Eoin Murphy’s freetaking, was a vital step in the right direction. Hurling is still quite a hard sell in a lot of areas served by the club and until they do a better job of getting a greater number of 19, 20 and 21 year-old players into their panel, they’ll struggle to climb up any higher.

(18) Ballyskenach-Killavilla

At adult level, there’s no point pretending otherwise – it was a bleak year for a club that continues to loiter at a level far below what would have been imagined when these two neighbouring clubs first officially joined forces nearly nine years ago. Numbers continue to be an ongoing issue, but they were well-represented in SBK teams that reached U-15 and U-20 county finals while the presence of Luke Watkins on the 2020 Offaly minor hurling team was a huge source of pride in the area. The next few years are vital for the direction of a club that could be giving so much more to Offaly hurling.

(19) Edenderry

Started off the year with a good win over Clodiagh Gaels, but things just gradually fell away from then on. A one-point defeat to a good Shamrocks side was followed up by a one-goal defeat to Coolderry, then a heavy defeat to Tullamore and a finally a failure to field in the last game. That’s the type of outcome they need to avoid more than anything, as there are more than enough young players in the club to create a competitive adult team in time, if the climate is conducive enough.

(20) Crinkill

A late goal by Belmont knocked them out of a Junior ‘B’ championship where they would have been expected to go well, albeit drawn into a comparably tough group with two clubs that eventually made the championship semi-final. A good run at minor level with Carrig & Riverstown has kept the fires burning in those who argue that an amalgamation of those two clubs is needed, though there’s a lot of work that would need to be done to make that a reality.

(21) Gracefield

They may have hurled at a higher grade than Crinkill this year, but four heavy defeats and a walkover doesn’t read well. There are plenty of dual clubs on this list but none that are as disconnected from the rest of the county as the Blackthorns, and it makes for tough going in a lot of ways.