Kevin Martin, with Johnny Dooley, Michael Duignan and John Troy also pictured, acknowledges the crowd as the 1998 All-Ireland winning Offaly team is honoured before last Sunday's All-Ireland SHC final at Croke Park. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Silver jubilee of 1998 Offaly victory marked in Croke Park

History was made last Sunday as Limerick became just the third county to win four All-Ireland senior hurling titles in a row, following in the footsteps of Cork and Kilkenny, their opponents on the day.

Kilkenny had an edge in the first half and led by three points at half-time, but the Treaty men delivered a stunning exhibition of hurling in the second half to win by nine points (0-30 to 2-15).

But it was also a day when Offaly supporters could look back fondly on a slice of history created by their county’s hurlers as the silver jubilee of the 1998 All-Ireland winning team was marked.

In 1998, Offaly became the first county in either hurling or football to win an All-Ireland senior crown having lost a game during the championship. They became known as the first 'back door' champions.

As Offaly captain Hubert Rigney said when accepting the Liam MacCarthy Cup: "We may have come in through the back door, but we're going out the front."

The 1998 Leinster final loss to Kilkenny prompted Offaly manager Michael 'Babs' Keating to say that his team's performance reminded him of "sheep running around in a heap".

The reaction to this infamous comment led to Keating's departure from his role. A man called Bond, Michael Bond, entered the picture as Offaly's new manager.

Offaly faced Clare in a controversial All-Ireland semi-final that had three instalments before the outcome was eventually decided.

Clare looked likely to hold on for victory in the first replay, despite a spirited Offaly comeback. Controversy erupted due to Jimmy Cooney's premature blast of the final whistle and the strange failure to play the remaining minutes of the match eventually led to Clare agreeing to a rematch.

In the third match, played in Thurles, Joe Dooley was in inspirational form as Offaly dethroned the 1997 champions.

Offaly renewed rivalry with Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final and it was the Faithful men, rather than the Cats, who would have the last laugh.

Brian Whelahan, trying to shake off a dose of flu, was moved from his customary wing-back to full-forward during the game and this switch proved vital to Offaly's victory. 'Sid' ended up scoring 1-6 with Whelahan's Birr colleague Joe Errity scoring Offaly's other goal in a 2-16 to 1-13 victory.

It would prove Kevin Fennelly's last game in charge of Kilkenny, and he was replaced by a certain Brian Cody.

It was an Offaly team that contained teak tough defenders like Kevin Kinahan and Martin Hanamy, the overall class of Brian Whelahan, the craft and scoring ability of the Dooley brothers (Joe, Johnny and Billy) and the creativity of John Troy (see team list below).

There has been some rather odd criticism about the timing of the presentation to the 1998 Offaly team before last Sunday's All-Ireland final at Croke Park.

Sunday Game pundit Shane Dowling claimed that the stadium was "half empty" and the Irish Examiner has reported that the Offaly County Board had requested that the presentation be made at half-time.

Dowling suggested that it would have been possible to introduce the players at half-time as well as having the exhibition of hurling involving primary school children.

It's not clear how this could have been achieved given the time frame and the fact that every player was introduced to the crowd (Ballycumber native Eamon Horan did the honours).

Incidentally, Carrig NS pupil Conor Mahon was among the boys who played at half-time on the hallowed turf of Croke Park on Sunday last.

Rather than the presentation to the 1998 Offaly team, the biggest issue for many supporters on All-Ireland final day was the lack of a curtain-raiser to the Limerick v Kilkenny showdown. Traditionally, the All-Ireland minor final was played before the senior decider, but this practice was discontinued in recent years.

Offaly team (1998 All-Ireland SHC final): Stephen Byrne; Simon Whelahan, Kevin Kinahan, Martin Hanamy; Brian Whelahan, Hubert Rigney (captain), Kevin Martin; Johnny Pilkington, Johnny Dooley; Michael Duignan, John Troy, Gary Hanniffy; Billy Dooley, Joe Errity, Joe Dooley. Subs used: Paudie Mulhare, Darren Hanniffy, John Ryan. Rest of panel: Eoin Kennedy, Barry Whelahan, Niall Claffey, Colm Cassidy, Eunan Martin, Killian Farrell, Cathal Murphy, Ger Oakley, Michael Rigney, Noel Murphy.