OFFALY continued their build up for their Leinster Senior Football Championship showdown with Kildare with a win over Westmeath in a competitive and high scoring challenge match against Westmeath in Cloghan on Sunday evening.
Senior Football Challenge in Cloghan
Played in glorious sunshine, Offaly had lead by as many as eight points but Westmeath came back strongly in the closing stages and were back level with time running out.
Offaly put the final score on the board with a point from Bernard Allen after good work from Niall Smith but it needed an outstanding block at the other end from Sean Pender to make sure Westmeath didn’t get back on level terms before Brian Gavin blew the full-time whistle.
While the game was not played at a championship pace or intensity, it was another useful run out for an Offaly side who continue to try and rebuild their confidence under interim manager Tom Coffey.
They played with pace and their work-rate was impressive from start to finish. They did appear to fade for a time in the second-half in the evening sunshine but they rallied at the end to earn the win.
Still without Richie Dalton and Niall McNamee, Offaly impressed for much of the game and their tactic of getting the ball in precisely and quickly to a fast moving full-forward line caused Westmeath trouble throughout the game.
James Coughlan was impressive scoring five points from play while Ken Casey chipped in with four. Niall Smith and Alan McNamee held sway for much of the game in midfield with Smith scoring 1-1 with the goal coming from an interception and well timed pass from McNamee.
A feature of the game was the pace with which Offaly were able to break from the back with defenders galloping forward to join in the attack. It paid dividends early in the first-half when corner-back Sean Pender got forward to smash the ball to the back of the net with a finish any inter-county forward would be very proud of.
That goal after eight minutes put Offaly 1-1 to 0-1 clear with Ken Casey having opened the scoring and Kieran Martin responding for Westmeath. Martin was on target again soon after but points from Anton Sullivan, Ken Casey (free) and James Coughlan put Offaly five points ahead after 12 minutes.
Shortly after that Sullivan went off injured and he wasn’t the only Offaly player to leave the game injured as John Reynolds and Brian Darby both were forced off later in the game which will be a concern for Tom Coffey ahead of the June 17 showdown with Kildare.
Westmeath hit back on the quarter-hour mark when Callum McCormack slotted home the first of his three goals on the day at the end of a good passing move.
Two points from James Coughlan to one in reply from Michael Ennis left Offaly three clear but a second Martin goal levelled matters with 21 minutes on the clock.
Offaly hit back immediately with a well finished goal from Niall Smith after and interception from Alan McNamee and the sides added a point apiece before the break with Bernard Allen on target for Offaly to leave them 2-7 to 2-4 ahead.
Offaly made the perfect start to the second half when a rare mistake from Gary Connaughton was punished by Daniel Currams as he fisted the ball into the empty net and while James Dolan pulled one back for Westmeath, points from Ken Casey (2) and Niall Smith left Offaly 3-10 to 2-5 clear with 43 minutes on the clock.
However Westmeath, who opened their championship campaign the previous weekend against Louth, took control for the next ten minutes rattling off a quickfire 1-4 with Martin completing his hat-trick when a long ball forward broke his way.
Entering the final quarter Offaly got their second wind and fine points from Alan McNamee and two from James Coughlan put them four ahead again.
Westmeath were handed a route back into the game when Brian Gavin awarded a dubious penalty when he adjudged that goalkeeper Alan Mulhall had foot blocked a shot when the Offaly net minder seemed to be just spreading himself to make the save. James Dolan calmly slotted home the penalty and a point from Denis Corroon followed to level the scores but Bernard Allen had the final say kicking what turned out to be the winning point after more good work from Niall Smith.
Westmeath had one last chance to earn a draw but a shot from James Dolan was blocked by Sean Pender which summed up just how hard Offaly worked on the day.
Offaly: James Coughlan 0-5; Ken Casey 0-4 (0-2f); Niall Smith 1-1; Sean Pender 1-0; Bernard Allen 0-2; Daniel Currams 1-0; Anton Sullivan 0-1; Alan McNamee 0-1
Westmeath: Callum McCormack 3-0; Kieran Martin 0-4 (0-3f); James Dolan 1-1 (1-0 pen); Ger Egan 0-2; Michael Ennis 0-1; Alan Giles 0-1; Denis Corroon 0-1
Offaly: Alan Mulhall; James Gallagher, Eoin Rigney, Sean Pender; Brian Darby, Johnny Moloney, Lorcan Hiney; Alan McNamee, Niall Smith; Mark Dunne, Daniel Currams, Ken Casey; Anton Sullivan, Nigel Dunne, James Coughlan. Subs: Bernard Allen for Anton Sullivan (18mins), Shane Sullivan for Eoin Rigney (HT), Michael Brazil for James Gallagher (50mins), Keith McGuinness for Nigel Dunne (50mins), John Reynolds for Mark Dunne (52mins), James Gallagher for Brian Darby (60mins), Brian Hanamy for Ken Casey (60mins), Joe Higgins for Eoin Rigney (62mins), Nigel Dunne for John Reynolds (64mins)
Westmeath: Garry Connaughton; Mark McCallon, John Gaffey, Kevin Maguire; Doran Harte, Paul Sharry, Daniel McDermott; Aidan Finnan, Paul Bannon; Kieran Martin, Ger Egan, Ronan Foley; Michael Ennis, Callum McCormack, James Dolan. Subs: David Gavin for Paul Bannon (40mins), Alan Giles for Michael Ennis (40mins), Denis Corroon for John Gaffey (40mins), Philip Sheridan for Paul Sharry (55mins), Tommy Warburton for Kieran Martin (58mins)
Referee: Brian Gavin (Clara)