Huge relief as Offaly defiantly hang on to reach Leinster semi-final

RELIEF was the overriding emotion at cold, rain and wind swept O’Connor Park on Saturday evening as Offaly manfully withstood a Wexford fight-back and secured a morale boosting victory.

RELIEF was the overriding emotion at cold, rain and wind swept O’Connor Park on Saturday evening as Offaly manfully withstood a Wexford fight-back and secured a morale boosting victory.

Offaly 2-12

Wexford 1-13

RELIEF was the overriding emotion at cold, rain and wind swept O’Connor Park on Saturday evening as Offaly manfully withstood a Wexford fight-back and secured a morale boosting victory.

Trailing 0-3 to 0-7 and hurling against the elements, Offaly nerves jangled profusely as Wexford’s ‘Gizzie’ Lyng fluffed two goal scoring opportunities (one thanks a brilliant save by James Dempsey) that would have put the visitors out of sight.

And in the 28th minute, with them still a point to the good, 0-7 to 0-6, Wexford’s debutant full forward Jack Guiney crashed a 21m free against the crossbar.

If any of these chances had been converted, then it is likely that Liam Dunne’s charges would have maintained their championship winning streak over the ‘Faithful’ that stretches back to 2002.

Under the cosh, Offaly hurled them-selves back into contention as Brian Carroll, dropped deep from his starting centre forward role, to lend assistance to the defence while the gangly and industrious Colin Egan continued to win aerial possession from Dempsey’s puck-outs. Unfortunately, Offaly didn’t win nearly enough of the exchanges in the air but Egan’s success was heartening.

And in the 33rd minute, an exquisitely weighted Joe Bergin pass which took Wexford’s ‘loose’ defender Keith Rossiter out of the game saw Shane Dooley use his height advantage to eclipse Willie Deveraux and pounce for a stunning goal that made it 1-7 to 0-7.

Dooley swiftly added a converted free so the ‘Faithful’ had completed an eight-point turnaround. Rory Jacob responded with a Wexford point in injury time leaving a goal separating the sides and Offaly with the benefit of the breeze to come in the concluding half

Wexford, whose defence were taking no prisoners and were very physical in the tackle, obviously weren’t happy with the fact they’d conceded 1-5 without reply between the 19th and 35th minutes, so they withdrew Deveraux and Shaun Murphy and introduced Darren Stamp and Eoin Moore.

The alterations didn’t unhinge Offaly and by the 52nd minute the home side were nine points ahead, 2-12 to 0-9.

Dooley contributed three accurate frees that brought his match tally to 1-8, earning him the RTE man of the match accolade. Brendan Murphy, who along with David Franks, were members of the last Offaly senior set-up that overcame Wexford in the Leinster SHC in 2000, hoisted over a great point from 60m out and the goal, following a controversially awarded 21m throw-in, was drilled first-time to the net by Joe Bergin

It meant that from the 19th to 52nd minutes, Offaly had outscored Wexford by 2-9 to 0-2, and they seemed to be cruising towards an emphatic win.

But the one thing this Offaly side isn’t synonymous with is applying the sucker blow and so it came to pass on this occasion as they failed to score again, despite creating a myriad of chances, and Wexford gradually hurled them-selves firmly into the hunt.

David Redmond and Gareth Sinnott started to gain a serious stranglehold around mid-field overshadowing Mahon & Brady and with Carroll’s influence not being as significant and Rossiter picking up a lot of ball unchallenged owing to Offaly’s two-man full forward line ploy, the ‘Slaneysiders’ slowly began turning the screw.

Rory Jacob scored two lovely points and sandwiched between these Guiney left rain drops dangling off the twine with a powerful 57th minute 21m free.

Wexford were now four points down, 1-11 to 2-12, and with the memory of their fight-back league win over Offaly (where they trailed by nine points with seven minutes and won by one) still fresh in their memories they had a belief that this task wasn’t beyond them either.

Indeed, Offaly hearts in their mouths prior to Guiney striking his free as fussy referee John Sexton had a lengthy chat with Brady, who was already on a yellow card, and the expectant second yellow wasn’t brandished.

With Offaly misses increasing so too did the tension and excitement level and it was real backs to the wall stuff for the home defence. Wexford added two more points through Sinnott and Guiney (after David Franks was penalised for throwing his hurley in an attempt to block Jacob whose shot had curled wide)

With the gap now down to two points, 1-13 to 2-12, and five minutes of normal time, plus injury time to follow, Offaly hearts were in their mouths

And the drama reached a crescendo when Wexford were awarded a 69th minute 21m free. Guiney, rather than going for the safety of a tap over point went for glory, and much to Offaly’s relief Rory Hanniffy managed to block the sliotar and Ollie Baker’s side hung on for a long overdue championship win over the ‘Slaneysiders’

Winning represents a huge psychological boost to Offaly and now they’ve got the monkey off their backs, they’ve nothing to fear on Sunday week against Galway

Saturday’s encounter wasn’t pretty or for the purists. Weather conditions had a huge bearing and considering the recent history between these counties it was always going to be nip and tuck. Wexford will feel that they should have put the verdict beyond Offaly’s grasp after they went 0-7 to 0-3 clear and went on to spurn three goal chances prior to half time

Offaly’s Brendan Murphy had a goal attempt blocked after just 49 seconds but when the ‘Faithful’ outscored their opponents by 2-9 to 0-2 and surged 2-12 to 0-9 clear, the reality is they should have closed out the issue.

They didn’t and Wexford got a sniff of Offaly’s vulnerability and fear of losing they threw everything at them. It was during the closing twenty plus minutes that the Offaly defence earned their crust with David Franks, ‘Del’ Morkan, Diarmuid Horan and Rory Hanniffy executing some very timely interventions.

Guiney’s last-gasp free was merely inches from the line when it came off Hanniffy’s hurley and to say it was tension filled, anxious rollercoaster of emotions isn’t an exaggeration. Offaly needed to win this one badly and now they’ve delivered it is onwards and upwards.

SCORERS

Offaly: Shane Dooley 1-8 (0-7 frees), Joe Bergin 1-1, Brian Carroll 0-2, Brendan Murphy 0-1.

Wexford: Jack Guiney 1-3 (all frees), Paul Morris 0-3, Rory Jacob 0-3, Diarmuid Lyng 0-2 (0-1 sideline cut), PJ Nolan 0-1, Gareth Sinnott 0-1.

WIDES

Offaly 14 (4 1st half);

Wexford 13 (8 1st half).

CARDS

Red: None. Yellow (5): Willie Deveraux (34 mins), Kevin Brady (37 mins), James Rigney (49 mins), Richie Kehoe (51 mins), David Franks (65 mins)

OFFALY: James Dempsey; Derek Morkan, David Kenny (capt.), David Franks; James Rigney, Rory Hanniffy, Kevin Brady; Conor Mahon, Diarmuid Horan; Colin Egan, Brian Carroll, Brendan Murphy; Shane Dooley, Cathal Parlon, Joe Bergin. Subs.: Sean Ryan for C Parlon (55 mins), Conor Hernon for C Mahon (66 mins), Derek Molloy for B Murphy (71 mins).

WEXFORD: Eanna Martin; Willie Deveraux, Matthew O’Hanlon, Keith Rossiter (capt.); Stephen Murphy, Ciaran Kenny, Shaun Murphy; Gareth Sinnott, David Redmond; PJ Nolan, Eoin Quigley, Diarmuid Lyng; Rory Jacob, Jack Guiney, Paul Morris. Subs.: Darren Stamp for S Murphy (half time), Eoin Moore for W Deveraux (half time), Harry Kehoe for E Quigley (44 mins), Richie Kehoe for S Murphy (50 mins).

REFEREE: John Sexton, Cork