SHELL shocked Offaly were on the receiving end of a severe Galway ambush in this terribly disappointing Leinster SHC semi-final watched by 16,178 spectators in sunny O’Moore Park, Portlaoise last Sunday.
The floodgates were prised open very early and when Anthony Cunningham’s Galway stormed 3-1 to 1-1 clear after 9 minutes the signs were ominous as Offaly’s shaky defence was being dragged all over the place and the subsequent space created was mercilessly exploited.
Between the 11th and 16th minutes Offaly hit five unanswered points, 1-6 to 3-1. It was unquestionably their best spell.
But Galway, whose forwards rotated continuously with Cyril Donnellan, Conor Cooney and David Burke looking exceptionally sharp, didn’t panic and they responded with four points of their own and steadied the ship, 3-5 to 1-6 after 21 minutes.
As the score-fest continued, the ‘Tribesmen’ surged eight points clear, 3-9 to 1-7, by the 29th minute and when Offaly hit three points per Shane Dooley (2) and Colin Egan to reduce the deficit to a more manageable five, 1-10 to 3-9 the issue was still up for grabs.
Unfortunately, the closing three minutes of the half ultimately killed off Offaly’s challenge altogether. Joe Canning, returned from injury, dispatched a brace of points (one from a free after he’d been fouled him-self by Diarmuid Horan and the second after Brian Carroll had been blocked down while attempting to initiate an attack at the opposite end).
And sandwiched in between the points, Canning’s Portumna club mate Damien Hayes sauntered in for Galway’s fourth goal following a slick inter change of passes between Conor Cooney and David Burke.
Dooley sent an injury time ’65 wide and Offaly, with their heads bowed, confidence battered and energy sapped, trooped bewilderedly towards their dressing room trailing by ten points, 1-10 to 4-11, and even if Houdini togged out with them for the concluding half he wasn’t going to rescue the situation.
The harsh truth is that the vast majority of the first half scores could be directly attributed to mistakes and their frequency kept everyone entertained. It was competitive and high octane stuff at times but the concluding half quite frankly was a non-event as Galway eased off the accelerator and lost their concentration, while demoralised Offaly weren’t able to lift them-selves sufficiently to pose a serious threat.
Galway won the second half emphatically enough, 1-12 to 2-5. Yes they conceded 3-15 in all (to add to the 4-12 they leaked against Westmeath) and that has to be a concern for them ahead of meeting Kilkenny or Dublin in the provincial final on Sunday, July 8. However, when you are capable of scoring 10-42 (5-19 v Westmeath & 5-23 against Offaly) then you certainly can’t be dismissed.
Tactically, Galway got it spot on. Their forward rotation caught Offaly unawares and their ability to create space to run into was a joy to watch. Offaly opted to go ‘man-for-man’ but this left defenders isolated and they were severely punished by Galway’s superior pace. Coincidentally, in the replay involving the same counties two years ago, Galway also shook things up in their attack and Offaly struggled to cope, but not as badly as on this galling occasion.
Canning missed two early 65’s and when Conor Cooney pounced on a David Kenny slip-up to slam home a 5th minute goal it was the start Offaly didn’t need. Cooney repeated his party piece within thirty seconds. But the Galway fans had hardly stopped celebrating when their ‘keeper James Skehill, back from a 12 week lay-off, misdirected a hand-pass and Dooley squeezed in a goal from the tightest of angles.
Donnellan grabbed the opening “point” of the encounter (well it was really wide by quite a distance but the umpires and linesman Michael Wadding didn’t notice!). Conor Mahon replied immediately with a fine point and things were simmering nicely until the 9th minute when Offaly ‘keeper James Dempsey failed to hold a high delivery. He saved Donnellan’s subsequent strike and as the sliotar got caught at his feet David Burke raced in to apply the finish, 3-1 to 1-1.
Dooley (free & ’65), Mahon, ‘Del’ Morkan (a brilliant long range strike after a superb Colin Egan fetch) and Joe Bergin (after he dispossessed Johnny Coen) clipped over five unanswered points and suddenly one sensed it was game on, 3-1 to 1-6.
Some basic handling mistakes badly unhinged Offaly at this stage and this allowed Niall Burke, Donnellan (2) and Iarla Tannian in for points. The last of this sequence – Donnellan’s 21st minute point that made it 3-5 to 1-6 told the story of the game. Mahon with the gateway to goal open in front of him failed to hold an intelligent Dooley hand-pass. Kevin Hynes cleared to Donnellan who had the legs to bypass David Franks and dispatch a lovely score. It was direct and simple and when Galway executed it, they did it well. Fortunately, they didn’t maintain that economic and effective style for the second half.
Dooley and Tannian traded points but Dooley and Brendan Murphy were also off target and Dooley lost the grip on his hurley when attempting to strike a 25th minute score-able free. Hayes (after Horan had executed two block downs) and Canning (after Kenny had fouled Cooney) grabbed Galway points and Hayes did so again, 3-9 to 1-7, after he was picked out by Tony Og Regan.
Points by Dooley (2) and Egan kept Offaly firmly in contention but they weren’t functioning fluently and Parlon was switched to mid-field in a direct swap with Carroll, while Bergin and Mahon swapped roles in the heart of the attack.
Galway hit 1-2 without reply prior to the break and trailing 1-10 to 4-11 it was curtains for devastated Offaly.
During the break the Offaly management trio of Ollie Baker, Paudge Mulhare and Mark Corrigan called Franks ashore and they sprung Derek Molloy. And when the side returned to the pitch just four of the players – Dempsey, Egan, Dooley & Mahon - were in the positions they started the encounter. Rory Hanniffy and Kevin Brady were sited at full and centre back, respectively, while there was new mid-field partnership of Joe Bergin & Brendan Murphy.
Galway continued their pursuit of goals on the resumption but they weren’t as clinical with Hanniffy standing tall to deny Donnellan and Dempsey produced a stunning save to deny sub Jonathan Glynn. Yet it was 4-18 to 1-12 after 56 minutes.
Galway’s seven points came from Canning (4 65’s & 2 frees) and just one from play by Hayes. Offaly’s two were accounted for by Egan and Dooley (’65).
So in 21 minutes we’d witnessed just one point from play at either end. So it was a far cry from the first half. Galway had told them-selves they’d enough done and Offaly were deflated. It was pretty scrappy to say the least.
Derek Molloy’s 58th minute ‘top spin’ shot that looped beyond Skehill made it 2-12 to 4-18 and when Dooley netted a 63rd minute free if left Offaly nine points behind – 3-14 to 4-20.
Galway weren’t going to let Offaly back into this one and they polished off the job by outscoring their bewildered opponents by 1-3 to 0-1 – sub Davy Glennon rifling home their fifth goal from point-blank range – and it left them as comprehensive 14 –point winners.
Galway may not be the polished article but they were much better than Offaly who must now dust them-selves and prepare for the qualifier route. That isn’t an enticing prospect as their opponents will be Clare or one of the two other provincial semi-final losers – Kilkenny or Dublin / Tipperary or Cork.
Offaly: Shane Dooley 2-7 (1-3 frees & 0-2 65’s), Derek Molloy 1-1, Conor Mahon 0-2, Joe Bergin 0-2, Colin Egan 0-2, Derek Morkan 0-1.
Galway: Joe Canning 0-11 (0-5 frees & 0-4 65’s), Damien Hayes 1-3, Conor Cooney 2-0, David Burke 1-1, Cyril Donnellan 0-3, Davy Glennon 1-0, Iarla Tannian 0-2, Niall Burke 0-1, James Regan 0-1, Tadhg Haran 0-1.
Offaly 9 (6 1st half)
Galway 8 (4 1st half)
Red: None. Yellow (3): Niall Donoghue (29 mins), Kevin Hynes (48 mins), James Rigney (61 mins).
OFFALY: James Dempsey; Derek Morkan, David Kenny (capt.), David Franks; James Rigney, Rory Hanniffy, Diarmuid Horan; Brian Carroll, Kevin Brady; Colin Egan, Conor Mahon, Brendan Murphy; Shane Dooley, Joe Bergin, Cathal Parlon. Subs.: Derek Molloy for D Franks (half time), Chris McDonald for D Kenny (41 mins), Sean Ryan for B Carroll (47 mins), Conor Hernon for C Mahon (55 mins).
GALWAY: James Skehill; Niall Donoghue, Kevin Hynes; Fergal Moore (capt.); Johnny Coen, Tony Og Regan, Joseph Cooney; Iarla Tannian, Andy Smith; Joe Canning, Niall Burke, Damien Hayes; Conor Cooney, Cyril Donnellan, David Burke. Subs.: Paul Gordon for N Donoghue (31 mins), Jonathan Glynn for N Burke (49 mins), James Regan for C Cooney (54 mins), Tadhg Haran for I Tannian (60 mins), D Glennon for C Donnellan (64 mins).
REFEREE: Cathal McAllister, Cork.