Birr and St Rynagh's with eye on the prize as hurling final goes old school

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kevin@tullamoretribune.ie

RIVALRY, tradition, respect and unique. All words to describe Sunday's Offaly Senior Hurling Championship final between St Rynagh's and Birr.

Old worlds collide once again in a repeat of the 2016 County final with Birr out for revenge and St Rynagh's out to earn this group's second senior championship medal in four years.

It has been 2008 since Birr have walked the steps and collected the Sean Robbins Cup and they are in for some battle in a bid to stop the rot and get one over on their near neighbours.

They won't be shouting about it from the roof tops, but there is a deep rooted respect between the two clubs.

Be it schools, soccer, darts or anything else you can think off, there is a rivalry between the two towns.

The final in 2016 brought the rivalry and respect back into focus and three years later, against many people's judgements, they are back and will hit the road to Tullamore on Sunday in a bid to land the big prize.

Sunday's game will pit two teams against each other, where their biggest strength is their defence – on form anyway. Birr have got their house in order at the back first and foremost and it has helped them launch back into the final.

Dylan Watkins, Jimmy Irwin and Oisin Murphy are in the full back line at the moment and if selected, they will all play in their first Senior Hurling final.

Outside them, they have a huge safety net. Brian Watkins, Paul Cleary and Sean Ryan are the experienced trio that make up the half back line and they are probably the strongest line on the team.

Watkins and Ryan are frequent scorers from play while Cleary is an expert long range free taker for those outside the range of Eoghan Cahill.

Cahill is the main man for Birr. Whether he starts in midfield or in the forward line, Birr need him singing to his hurl like he has been doing in recent games.

Having come back from county duty and playing in goals, he has found top form out the field and his man of the match display against Kilcormac/Killoughey in the semi final was awesome.

Up front, while not short on work rate, Birr haven't been getting enough scores. Colm Mulrooney and Morgan Watkins have the pace and skill to worry any defence and the hope for Birr is that they can chip in with two or three points from play each.

The direct running of Stephen Lonergan has also been a feature of their play but the potential absence of captain Barry Harding would be a cruel blow to their chances. Dylan Hayden is playing a big role at centre forward and hit three points from play in the semi final.

Harding damaged his ankle in the semi final win over K/K and is very doubtful for Sunday.

On the Rynagh's end of things, their forward line couldn't exactly be called free scoring either but they had a better spread from their front six in the semi final.

Aaron Kenny has developed into a very good senior player while Ronan Hughes, on his day, can be a match winner.

Stephen Quirke has been held in reserve in recent games and his potential introduction in the second half would be a big plus for St Rynagh's.

Aidan Treacy and Garry Kelly will in the middle third somewhere and Treacy's free taking and Kelly's physicality will both be key.

Like Birr, their big strength lies in their backs. Ben Conneely has continually been one of the best players in the county in the last three years while the likes of Dermott Shortt, Conor Hernon and Stephen Wynne bring great experience and ability especially considering the absence of Pat Camon and Niall Wynne.

Free taking will be massive on Sunday. Both sides are more than likely going to have free takers as their top scorers and the battle with Eoghan Cahill and Aidan Treacy will tell a lot. Neither can really afford to be off form while both teams are going to have to be disciplined in the tackle.

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