AFTER the mighty relief and high of clinging on to defeat Wexford in the Leinster SHC just four days earlier, there was deflation and a stark reminder of a possibly very bleak future, as Offaly U-21’s succumbed rather tamely to the ‘Slaneysiders’ in last Wednesday’s disappointingly one-sided Bord Gais Energy Leinster U-21 HC quarter-final at O’Connor Park, Tullamore.
Aidan Hanrahan’s Offaly side led 0-2 to nil after five minutes but ‘Faithful’ supporters in the 1,700 attendance had little to get excited about afterwards as they played second fiddle to a physically stronger and slicker Wexford unit.
The visitors led 0-9 to 0-5 at the interval and they weren’t troubled at all during the concluding half and they could even afford the luxury of withdrawing senior star Jack Guiney.
Guiney was one of three Wexford seniors in their U-21 starting line-up – defenders Willie Deveraux and Matthew O’Hanlon were the other two. While Mark Fanning, Diarmuid O’Keeffe and Gary Moore are senior panellists with Moore (who registered 0-8) causing serious headaches for Offaly especially in the second half after he moved to left half forward. Offaly just couldn’t get close enough to their opponents to mount a serious challenge and it was galling to see Wexford players win aerial possession unchallenged and enjoy so much time to weigh up their options.
Offaly registered the opening points through Adrian Hynes (free) and Tom Carroll, however, the home side quickly lost their way badly as Mark Maloney and inter-county footballer Lee Chin began to gain the upper hand around mid-field for Wexford.
Tony Dempsey’s Wexford charges reeled off eight unanswered points between the 9th and 25th minutes with Jack Guiney contributing three excellent points from frees, while the brilliant Chin, Barry Carton (2), Moore and Michael O’Regan also split the uprights.
In an attempt to arrest the decline, Offaly moved Fearghus Hannon from full forward to mid-field with Shane Kinsella moving into corner forward and Sean Cleary took up duty on the edge of the small square.
Tom Carroll struck Offaly’s fourth wide in the 21st minute and their nineteen minutes wait for a score was ended by Stephen Quirke. Hynes converted a free won by Hannon and Guiney responded with a similar score at the opposite end. The half ended on a high for Offaly as half back Tom Spain landed a fine long range point, 0-5 to 0-9 at the break.
During half time Offaly replaced both starting mid-fielders (Pat Camon & Ciaran Buckley were introduced with Camon linking up with Hannon at mid-field and Buckley operated at right half forward) but to precious little avail as rampant Wexford continued to dictate matters.
Indeed, mid-field was seriously problematic for Offaly and when they replaced Hannon, half back David King was drafted into mid-field. The ‘Faithful’ simply couldn’t win primary aerial possession around the central diamond and suffocated of possession, the forwards posed little threat – three of Offaly starting forwards failed to score whereas all of Wexford’s starting forwards managed to score.
On four separate occasions Wexford went seven points ahead (0-13 to 0-6 37 mins, 0-15 to 0-8 43 mins, 0-16 to 0-9 50 mins) and it was 0-17 to 0-10 with 55 minutes elapsed before they put the icing on the cake with late points from Chin and Moore and a brilliantly executed Aidan Nolan goal.
Offaly were guilty of hitting some poor wides when they desperately craved scores and there was precious little from the performance to be enthused about. Senior boss Ollie Baker was in attendance and he’d have learned little. U-21’s Sean Coughlan and Tom Carroll are already involved in his squad and they performed reasonably well. Carroll was on the wrong end of a few dodgy referee calls but these certainly didn’t impact on the outcome. St Rynagh’s duo Stephen Quirke and Aidan Treacy acquitted them-selves well but overall it was an evening to forget.
There was no intensity or bite to the exchanges and Wexford will scarcely have things as easily in the penultimate round when they square up to Kilkenny. Laois, after their 2-14 to 0-17 victory over reigning Leinster U-21 champions Dublin, have the reward of a semi-final date with Carlow to look forward to.
Things haven’t gone well for Offaly in this championship over the past three years in particular (with heavy losses being suffered to Dublin and Kilkenny in the previous two years also) and with results at minor level not being too hectic either, it begs the question: what is going to be done to transform Offaly’s underage hurling fortunes? The problems are obvious. The solutions unfortunately aren’t.
It is time for the County Board and all the stakeholders in Offaly hurling to put their shoulder to the wheel and come up with a template to improve matters for the future.
Offaly: Stephen Quirke 0-3, Adrian Hynes 0-3 (frees), Tom Carroll 0-2, Tom Spain & Alan Kelly 0-1 each.
Wexford: Gary Moore 0-8 (0-3 frees), Jack Guiney 0-4 (frees), Aidan Nolan 1-0, Barry Carton 0-3, Lee Chin 0-2, Michael O’Regan & J Hobbs 0-1 each.
Offaly 11 (4 1st half); Wexford 7 (5 1st half)
Red: None. Yellow (6): Fearghus Hannon (23 mins), Barry Carton (24 mins), Sean Kenny (30 mins), Alan Kelly (44 mins), Liam Og McGovern (56 mins), Conor Cleary (60 mins).
OFFALY: Conor Cleary; David Magner, Sean Coughlan, Brian Mulrooney; David King, Aidan Treacy, Tom Spain; Sean Kenny, Shane Kinsella; Tom Carroll, Adrian Hynes, Kevin Connolly; Sean Cleary, Fearghus Hannon, Stephen Quirke. Subs.: Pat Camon for S Kenny (half time), Ciaran Buckley for S Kinsella (half time), Alan Kelly for K Connolly (39 mins), Michael Cleary for F Hannon (53 mins).
WEXFORD: Mark Fanning; Willie Deveraux, Matthew O’Hanlon, Alan Nolan; Diarmuid O’Keefe, Conor Goff, Aidan Cash; Mark Maloney, Lee Chin; Jack Guiney, Michael O’Regan, Aidan Nolan; Jack Hobbs, Gary Moore, Barry Carton. Subs.: Ian Byrne for J Hobbs (35 mins), Liam Og McGovern for J Guiney (38 mins), Shane O’Gorman for M O’Regan (46 mins).
REFEREE: Sean Cleere, Kilkenny.