Joe Ryan wins the ball for Offaly
OFFALY produced a superb second half display to send Kildare packing in the Leinster U-20 Hurling Championship quarter-final in Tullamore on Tuesday evening.
Level at 0-11 each at half time and struggling to find any real momentum and form, Offaly really turned on the style in the second half. They outscored Kildare by 2-14 to 0-5 and the there was no comparison between the hurling they played in the first half and the second.
Offaly were much sharper and intense all over the field and most importantly, they cut down on the errors. Superb free taking from Liam Dempsey was responsible for Kildare being level at half time. He got nine frees, many from a long way out and on the wing as Offaly fouled way too much, even if some of them were questionable. Many of the frees conceded were clumsy and unnecessary and Dempsey gleefully punished everything.
It was a different story in the second half. Offaly still conceded a couple of careless frees but there was a dramatic tightening up all over the field. They were much more solid and steady in the tackle, much more efficient in the way they hurled and when that avenue for scores was shut off, Kildare found that they had very little to offer.
Kildare had stunned Wexford a week earlier and that had Offaly on high alert for this. They will be absolutely delighted with the win and a semi-final next Tuesday against Dublin in Parnell Park. While Offaly's hurling was quite mediocre for much of the first half, they were in a good position at the break as they had much greater scope for improvement.
Apart from Dempsey's frees, Kildare were an average side and some of their shooting, touch and stick work was poor. Offaly looked a very decent outfit in the second half and they upped the intensity from the restart. With Jack Screeney finding the range from frees and also popping over a super point from play, Offaly led by 0-17 to 0-12 after forty minutes. It was 0-18 to 0-14 at the water break and Kildare were hanging on for dear life.
They did fight hard but Offaly always looked to have their measure. Twice Kildare had the gap back to three, 0-18 to 0-15 and 0-19 to 0-16 but DJ Loughlin's 49th minute goal after great approach work by Cian Burke knocked the resistance out of them. Jack Screeney (free), Joe Ryan, Charlie Mitchell (two) and Luke Carey all floated over points and then Ryan got in for a goal a minute into injury time after good work by Joe Hoctor. David Qualter got a late goal for Kildare but they were a well beaten docket at this stage.
It was a great win for Offaly and it was also a very important one. Offaly are working very hard at every level to return as a force and it is crucial that they beat the Kildare's, Carlow's, Westmeath's and Laois' of this world at every opportunity. And that they beat them well when that opportunity arises. That is imperative as Offaly bids to close the gap on Kilkenny, Dublin, Galway and Wexford in the province.
They certainly did that here and it was a very good second half display. Offaly were asked questions and they answered them emphatically and impressively. It was a good solid team performance with plenty of fine individual displays.
A key switch took place when they moved Joe Ryan to full forward and Luke Nolan to midfield. It was a game transforming one with both players having a super second half. Ryan had tried hard at midfield in the first half but was almost too physical as he went for the big hit on a couple of occasions. The Birr man was a bundle of energy in full forward, showing for the ball, winning it and using his physicality in a much more positive way as he got 1-1 while Nolan came into his own at midfield, mopping up possession and driving in good ball to the forward line.
Once they stopped fouling, the Offaly defence were very good and they kept Kildare at arm's length. Padraic Watkins had a couple of wayward clearances when he tried to pick out a man but was immense in general, especially when Kildare were competitive while Peter Cleary, Luke Egan and Killian Sampson all impressed.
Cian Burke did plenty of good things at midfield and carried the ball well while Jack Screeney, DJ McLoughlin and Charlie Mitchell were in great form in the attack. Screeney was brilliant, hitting 12 points, 11 from play and growing in stature and influence in general play as it wore on. Loughlin was at his best as he scored 1-3 while Mitchell looks to be a real prospect. Full of running and pace, he got four points, a couple of them truly delightful. Tom Dooley also impressed while Luke Carey enhanced that sector when he came on.
The sides were level at 0-11 each at half time and Offaly were happy to be in that position as Kildare had been ever so slightly the better team in the first half. It was very even in most sectors and Kildare had missed a few chances that would have given them the lead while Offaly converted almost everything and had just one wide.
The big talking point of the first half was a sensational display of striking from Kildare free taker Liam Dempsey. He converted nine frees from a variety of distances and angles and the quality of his striking just took the breath away. Offaly fouled too much in the first half and this was one area they had to earmark for attention at half time as Dempsey was pointing everything from his own forty metre line down.
Kildare were limited enough in an attacking sense apart from that and had some poor wides in open play. Offaly had more scoring potential in general play with six of their eleven points coming from play – the remainder came from Jack Screeney frees.
Offaly led by 0-3 to 0-1 after five minutes but Kildare got well on top after this and were 0-5 to 0-3 clear by the 11th minute. Offaly were back on terms by the 14th minute but Kildare managed to keep their noses in front until the 27th minute when Screeney's free levelled it at 0-10 eac. Dempsey and Screeney then swopped frees to leave it all square at the break.
It set the scene for a tight second half but the reality proved to be different as Offaly got on top all over the field. No one could have predicted a twelve point win but that is the way it transpired and in the heel of the hunt, Offaly were full value for it.
OFFALY: Adam Fitzgerald (Birr); Peter Cleary (Shinrone), Padraic Watkins (Birr), Conor Hardiman (Kinnitty); Luke Egan (Tullamore), Killian Sampson (Shinrone), Dara Maher (Shinrone); Joe Ryan (Birr), Cian Burke (Coolderry); Tom Dooley (Seir Kieran), Jack Screeney (Kilcormac-Killoughey), DJ McLoughlin (Shinrone); Charlie Mitchell (Kilcormac-Killoughey), Luke Nolan (Birr), Niall Lyons (Birr). Subs - Subs: Luke Carey (Seir Kieran) for Lyons (42), Gearóid McCormack (Coolderry) for Burke (51), Ronan Cleary (Ballinamere) for Dooley (52), Sam Bourke (Durrow) for McLoughlin (59), Joe Hoctor (Carrig and Riverstown) for Nolan (59).
KILDARE: Sean Burke; Peter O'Donoghue, John McKeown, Matthew Eustace; Rossa Stapleton, Cian Shanahan, Paul Dolan; Conan Boran, Harry Dunne; Muiris Curtin, Liam Dempsey, Cathal McCabe; Darragh Meville, Ferran O'Sullivan, Conor Treacy. Subs - David Qualter for Melville (39), Jack Higgins for O’Sullivan (42), Ciarán Flanagan for Treacy (46), Conn Kehoe for Curtin (57), Alan Goss for Shanahan (59).
Referee – Caymon Flynn (Westmeath).
MAN OF THE MATCH
Charlie Mitchell (Offaly): A member of the Offaly minor hurling team last year, Charlie Mitchell brightened up the evening with spells of real class. He started off very well as Offaly settled down quickly and turned in an excellent second half when Offaly upped the ante. He was skilful and his blistering pace caused a lot of problems for an under pressure Kildare defence. Four points from play was a very handsome return. His Kilcormac/Killoughey club mate Jack Screeney was a close contender.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Jack Screeney got a superb point from play in the eight minute of the second half. He was a long way up when he wound up to shoot and he had the distance and accuracy. It gave Offaly a 0-16 to 0-12 lead and had a big positive impact on Offaly's confidence while sowing seeds of doubt in Kildare.
Offaly were not happy with some of the frees that Caymon Flynn gave Kildare in the first half. A couple of them were definitely soft but having said that, Offaly's tackling was not great at times. In the second half, it was Offaly's turn to get a few soft ones and overall, they probably balanced out. Flynn got most calls right.
This game provided further evidence of the work being done at underage level in Offaly. It is important that they beat Kildare, Laois, Westmeath and Carlow every chance they get as they bid to bridge the gap to the top tier counties in Leinster.
O'Connor Park was in excellent condition and the 500 strong crowd enjoyed the game. Well done to Offaly head steward Jim Kelly who quickly reacted after a Kildare official moved into the area where the Offaly subs were and drew a reaction from the management with some of the comments he was making. The Ballycumber man was quick to get him to move back up to the Kildare zone in the stand.
Offaly play Dublin in Parnell Park next Tuesday in the semi-final.
Wides: Offaly – 7 (1 in first half); Kildare – 7 (4 in first half).
Yellow cards: Offaly – 2 (Adam Fitzgerald and Conor Hardiman); Kildare – 1 (Rossa Stapleton).
Red cards: 0.
Offaly: Jack Screeney 0-12 (11f), DJ Loughlin 1-3, Joe Ryan 1-1, Charlie Mitchell 0-4, Tom Dooley 0-2, Luke Egan, Cian Burke, Luke Carey 0-1 each.
Kildare: Liam Dempsey 0-11 (11f), David Qualter 1-0, Daragh Meville 0-2, Muiris Curtin, Cathal McCabe and Jack Higgins 0-1 each.
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