Tullamore joint captains Michael Brazil and Johnny Moloney lift the Dowling Cup after Tullamore defeated Rhode in the 2021 Offaly SFC final replay.

Tullamore top of the pile after 2021 football season

It’s the calm before the storm on the inter-county scene, with both the Offaly senior footballers and hurlers getting ready for what will be very daunting spring campaigns. So, in this narrow window of calm, we finally have our chance to look at the Offaly club football rankings at the end of 2021, and who sits where in the overall pecking order.

As always, this isn’t just about results, but the relative strengths of the clubs as a whole!

(1) Tullamore

Doom-laden pessimists from every other club in the county are predicting a long reign of dominance from the county town, and certainly when you look at the quality, the personality and the sheer number of outstanding young players in the club, it’s entirely possible that Tullamore could hover up most, if not all of the county titles on offer this side of 2030. Things don’t always work out that straightforward, but it’s in the club’s hands. Keep things steady and they won’t be beaten.

(2) Rhode

They went down with all the spirit and honour you’d expect, and while people will look at the club’s age profile and their relative lack of underage success and predict a sharp fall, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the absence of Eoin Rigney – probably Offaly’s best county player in 2021 – really cost them dearly. If Tullamore slip up, they remain the most likely club to take advantage.

(3) Ferbane

To get to a semi-final after a dreadful year that was littered with serious injuries was a decent showing and, in hindsight, they were quite competitive against Tullamore in that last four showdown. At some point, however, one of their prodigious youngsters is going to have to continue their development into adulthood. Far too many for the last ten years or more have peaked at 16, 18 or 20, but never kicked on to become a key player at county level.

(4) Edenderry

Ken Robinson is an interesting management choice that could yet get a lot out of a talented attacking group, and if (as expected) Cian Farrell is back in harness for the meaningful part of the 2022 season, they’ll have the best forward in the county on duty. With Rory Egan and Lee Pearson kicking on as elite defenders, they’re in good shape.

(5) Shamrocks

Ludicrously untrustworthy, always capable of a poor display against very beatable opposition, but equally capable of causing real problems for any team, no matter how good. Defensive strength and consistency remain their weak spots, and until they ae addressed, they’ll always find someone too good – but Kieran Dolan could yet be that X-factor.

(6) Durrow

County semi-finalists and so probably a little bit harshly treated to be down this low in the rankings, yet there is a real sense that they just caught a weakened Rhode team on the hop, and while they followed that up well with an excellent and fully deserved draw against Ferbane, that was really as good as it got for them at any stage.

(7) Clara

They might argue over in Clara that getting to a Leinster final merits a higher ranking than this, but it could also be argued that they beat teams that they would expect to beat, then couldn’t quite kick on when the standard got that bit higher against Trim, albeit in a contest that turned out to be rather spiky, and thus not necessarily a fair reflection on their footballing ability. Still, that doesn’t bode well for those supporters who feel that the Magpies will go right back to where they were a few years back, as a central figure in the county championship race.

(8) Cappincur

Another year of survival, but constantly setting the bar at that level will be draining for the club, while ultimately there’s probably a limit to how much further they can take things. Eoin Carroll’s return will be transformative but, ultimately, it’s depth that they need – not to mention a reasonable resolution of their border issues with Tullamore, before it all escalates into something more serious.

(9) Bracknagh

They’ve gone down, but unless something strange happens, they should be the favourites to come straight back up. Ciarán Donnelly is playing elite level football so far this season and has a key role in a good UL side, while Peter Cunningham is unlikely to be ready to contribute to Offaly as much as he’d like, but he’ll certainly fit right back into club football with minimal difficulty.

(10) Tubber

There’s a significant drop in standard from the first nine to hear, as Tubber were best of the rest in 2021 but clearly still some way off the pace for senior football. They did well to reach the county final and competed well once they got there, so if Bracknagh are to be beaten in 2022, Tubber are one of a handful of clubs capable of doing so.

(11) Ballycumber

Their performances this year were probably a little better than the scoreboard suggested in a lot of cases, and no-one would have expected their showing against Tubber in the semi-final to be as dismal as it was. If anything, it was nearly too bad to be true. Either way, there’s improvement in them, but they’ll need to find a fair bit of it to threaten promotion.

(12) Erin Rovers

Their three-point defeat to Ballycumber in the championship quarter-final was deceptive, in that they never looked like winning that game – albeit it could have been very different were it not for the red card to Richard Fox that really put them on the back foot. They’re probably short a forward or two in terms of winning this championship, but if Nathan Poland and Conor Lynam are on form, they could beat any Senior ‘B’ club in a one-off game either.

(13) Walsh Island

They may have reached a county semi-final, but the suspensions they carried into that game against Clara meant that they were nearly beaten before the game started. They competed well at various stages this year and earned their place in the last four, but it looks like they’re on the cusp of becoming the third best team in their own parish.

(14) Clonbullogue

Oddly, when the 2021 Offaly intermediate championship finished up, there was an argument to be made that Clonbullogue had scrapped their way to the top of the pile in a battle between a host of very even teams, none of which was likely to be exceptional enough to make waves in a Senior ‘B’ championship. Yet they’ve continued to develop and improve throughout their Leinster campaign, culminating in last Saturday’s memorable win in Newbridge. 2022 will represent a huge step up in class – both taking on Kilmeena of Mayo next weekend and in Senior ‘B’ football – but the quality of their attacking football suggests they’ll hold their own in both cases.

(15) St. Rynagh’s

On the football front, the big story for St. Rynagh’s this year was their incredible success at U-15 level, albeit in the guise of “Cloghan” with a handful of players from outside the parish. Still, this was a very well-coached, talented young group with a lot of footballers who have the potential to augment a decent core group of players in the next five to ten years. The battle until then will be to make sure they don’t slip away too much.

(16) Gracefield

They came desperately close to dropping down to the third tier of Offaly football, which would be a fair fall from grace for the only club outside the top six in this list to contest a senior championship final this millennium. They’re not that far off the mark however, and several Senior ‘A’ clubs would look at some of the talent they have in their forward with a degree of envy. The club continues to underwhelm at underage and that needs to be addressed as population is not a problem for them, but in the short term, they’re capable of a lot better than they showed in 2021.

(17) Raheen

They would have gone into this year’s county intermediate final as the slight favourites in a lot of people’s minds, particularly given the manner in which they rebuilt their season after their shock defeat to Clodiagh Gaels early in the year. Yet they got steamrollered by the Clonbullogue attack, which was now clicking into gear. A little bit more cuteness and game management to get through quiet periods in games might bring them a long way.

(18) Daingean

Shane Tierney continues to play sufficiently well for DCU to suggest that he’s capable of much bigger things in club and county football, and there are plenty more like him in the Daingean dressing room – players who have shown that they have all the skills in the world, just aren’t necessarily bringing that to bear as well as they can. They’ll be strong intermediate contenders again in 2022, at the semi-final stage they would have been well-fancied by many as likely winners.

(19) Shannonbridge

Nothing that happened in the group stages would have prepared Shannonbridge for the blitzkrieg they were to face when they went toe to toe with Clonbullogue in the knockout stages. They aren’t as bad as that, and have a lot of the pieces in place to put together another decent assault on this championship next year, albeit with a lot of pressure on younger players like Jack Darcy and Aaron Brazil to take on leadership roles.

(20) St. Brigid’s

Their much-fabled physicality and competitiveness will always keep them up to a certain level, but there is a sense that there’s no immediate prospect of upwards momentum for the club on the horizon. Scoring is just too much of a challenge for the Croghan men in a lot of games, and they remain heavily dependent on a handful of older players.

(21) Clodiagh Gaels

This will seem like a very low ranking for a club that topped their group and thus went straight to a county semi-final, but that was on the back of one shock win, and subsequent results proved that they weren’t able to replicate that standard of play throughout the year. It’s almost certain that the club’s focus will be even more centred on hurling than was previously the case in 2022, so even though there are some tidy young footballers in the club, holding intermediate status will represent a challenge for them this year, with Tullamore likely to be very competitive at this grade.

(22) Ballycommon

They deserved to stay up on the simple basis that they put in a solid effort to be competitive this year with a very lean panel, and that showed through against a disinterested Kilcormac-Killoughey side in their championship playoff. David Dempsey’s development continues with every passing year and he is the standout footballer at this grade, but the supporting cast simply isn’t there around him to drive this club to the latter stages of an intermediate championship.

(23) Kilcormac-Killoughey

It’s not reasonable to rank them any higher than this after the year they’ve had, but everyone in Offaly knows that if Kilcormac-Killoughey took a humour in 2022 to take football seriously, they would probably cruise to the junior championship title. Will they? Who knows.

(24) Doon

The arrival of Nathan Gavigan, a recent Donegal U-20 footballer, to west Offaly, was supposed to herald a new era of glory. Frankie Dolan was recruited as manager to try and guide Doon to the promised land but it didn’t happen for them. Losing to Tullamore in the final would have been disappointing, but understandable. Losing to Edenderry will have been a huge disappointment.

(25) Ballinagar

Morgan Tynan is just one of many young players in the club who were part of strong Na Fianna sides in recent years, so they’re on an upward trajectory. Like every other junior club in 2022, they’ll watch carefully to see how Kilcormac-Killoughey set about their business. If the Double Ks don’t look tuned in, Ballinagar aren’t as far away as all that.

(26) Kilclonfert

Turning over Clara in the relegation final was a minor surprise, but most neutrals would be happy not to see Kilclonfert drop down to Junior ‘B’ with their first team. Nonetheless it was a difficult year for them and there’s no prospect of things getting significantly easier in the near future.

(27) Ballyfore

It’s incredible to see this famous club still struggling at this level, but nothing that happened in 2021 would suggest that a change of fortunes is around the corner any time soon, unfortunately.

(28) Clonmore Harps

This was a very good year for their fellow parishioners in Ballinabrackey and Clonard with an incredible run in the Meath U-20 championship, but life continues to be a tough slog for the Harps at Junior ‘B’ level. A lot of other clubs might have bowed to the pressure and folded into one of their neighbours by now, but that has never been in Clonmore’s DNA.

- Kevin Egan