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18 May 2022

Relieved Offaly stay on course for McDonagh Cup final after heart stopping win

Relieved Offaly stay in course for McDonagh Cup final after heart stopping win

Ciaran Burke, cleared a lot of ball for Offaly

OFFALY saw their championship lives flash in front of their eyes, almost causing collective heart failures for their supporters as they pipped Kerry in a thrilling Joe McDonagh Cup fourth round clash in Tralee on Saturday afternoon.

Joe McDonagh Senior Hurling Cup Round 4

Offaly 4-23
Kerry 2-28

A magnificent David Nally point four minutes into injury time pulled Offaly back from the brink of a devastating result and means that a win in their final game at home to Carlow next weekend will put them in the final.

It was an extraordinary thrilling shootout between two teams who gave it everything they had, throwing caution to the wind. It made for compelling, heart stopping viewing, especially in the closing quarter as Kerry mounted a sensational comeback that almost pulled it out of the fire for them – they came from ten points down to level terms with time almost up.

A draw would more than likely have resulted in an early exit from Offaly and they were mightily relieved at the final whistle as it so nearly went badly wrong for them. This game had so many ups and downs, twists and turns that it is difficult to know where to start.

The main bones are: Offaly led by 2-12 to 0-15 at half time after a very mixed first half - a stunning Stephen Corcoran penalty save from Shane Conway in the 16th minute ended up being very crucial - and then struggled woefully early in the second half as Kerry took control all over the field. They got in front, 0-21 to 2-13 after 43 minutes and Offaly were on the ropes. They responded superbly, going on a spree that yielded 2-6 without reply in a golden spell from the 45th to the 54th minute. With a 4-19 to 0-21 lead, they looked set to coast home and with a ten point lead there should have been no danger but instead they lost their way as Kerry threw the kitchen sink at them. Two goals from sub Maurice O'Connor brought them right back into it and there was only three in it, 2-23 to 4-20 with seven minutes left.

Offaly were out on their feet, living on their wits and sucking for air. A Colin Walsh point levelled it up three minutes into the five minutes of injury time and Offaly's worse nightmare was unfolding but Nally rode to their rescue with a spectacular 74th minute point.

Offay certainly owe a serious debt of gratitude to Nally. He got a crucial 20th minute goal but when Offaly's need was at its most acute late on, he was the one man who truly stood up to be counted. The Belmont man got three points of the highest quality in the most intense of pressure from the 64th to 74th minutes and those scores ensured Offaly's survival.

It was an extraordinary game of hurling. Absolutely thrilling stuff, full of thrills and spills with hurling at its most raw and human. It was high scoring and there was little logic or pattern to the game.

Offaly did very well to win it, though when manager Michael Fennelly reflects on it in the cold light of day, he will be asking one very honest question: Do Offaly really need to win the Joe McDonagh Cup? They will of course be going bald headed for it and they will relish another tilt at Antrim if they can make the final but this performance would not do against almost every opposition in the highest tier.

There were too many mistakes, forced and unforced, too many wayward passes and too many spells when Offaly simply lost their way and were forced onto the back foot. They are, however, where they are and this was a huge win for them. It was a real test of character, asking the most serious of questions from a Kerry side, who contributed so much to the entertainment.

Kerry players such as the brilliant Fionan McKessy, Shane Conway in the second half and subs Maurice O'Connor and Jordan Conway really put it up to Offaly. The visitors passed their test and that is the bottom line but it was certainly a low honours and not a high honours pass. It almost went badly wrong for them but they did very well to win and once again that is the bottom line.

Ben Conneely was magnificent in the Offaly defence. He was a real force of nature for 50 minutes plus before tiring a bit while Shane Conway found his game in the second half after being completely outplayed by the Banagher man in the first half. The defence were on their feet at times and plenty of mistakes were made though the full back line of Jack Screeney, Ciaran Burke and David King all had excellent spells. Jason Sampson worked hard at midfield while Eoghan Cahill was brilliant in the first half with his three quality points from play crucial. Killian Samspon got two goals while Liam Langton did well when he came on and John Murphy also had a decent afternoon, though he had a couple of poor misses.

A very mixed refereeing display by Clare man Rory McGann added to the sense of mayhem. He gave a number of questionable, soft frees and Offaly certainly seemed to suffer in this regard though they also got some ones and Kerry should have got a crucial free in during second half injury time – his use of the advantage rule was particularly questionable as he allowed too much time before calling back a few Kerry attacks for frees.

Offaly produced all kinds of everything in the first half as they led by 2-12 to 0-15 at half time but were engaged in one ferocious dogfight.

They had started almost flawlessly, hitting the ground with great intensity. They led by 0-3 to 0-1 after five minutes and a great sixth minute goal from Killian Sampson after a neat lay off by David Nally put them 1-3 to 0-2 ahead.. Brian Duignan's fine point made it 1-4 to 0-2 and Offaly were full value for this.

After his, however, they were up and down. They had good patches but also spells where they were very much on the back foot. They struggled to cope with Eoin Ross's and Fionan McKessy's raids forward while most worryingly, their error count began to creep higher. Some sloppy passing and unforced errors undid some of their early good work and Kerry got back into it.

The home side had it back to a goal, 1-6 to 0-6 when they were awarded a 16th minute penalty after Fionan O'Sullivan was fouled. Stephen Corcoran made a stunning save to deny Shane Conway, though Padraig Boyle pointed the “65”.

Offaly got their second goal in the 20th minute, a super opportunist strike from David Nally after great work by Ben Conneely in defence and a Killian Sampson ball in. That put Offay 2-7 to 0-8 ahead but they didn't build on it until Eoghan Cahill stood up, floating over two beautiful points to make it 2-10 to 0-10 after 25 minutes.

A bad wide by Luke O'Connor took the steam out of Offaly's purple patch and Kerry lifted the siege spectacularly, getting four on the trot to make it a two point game with the half drifting away. John Murphy and Cahill again got Offaly points while Boyle replied for Kerry from a free. Those were the final scores of the first half with John Murphy having two late wides for Offaly while the tightly marked Shane Conway missed a sitter for Offaly.

It meant that the visitors had a three point gap at the break but they were facing into their biggest 35 minutes of the year with their error count leaving them looking vulnerable.

They were certainly looking vulnerable within minutes of the restart as Kerry dominated. They got back on level terms by the 40th minute, 2-13 to 0-19 and Michael Leane should have put them ahead when wide with a straightforward chance. They did take the lead a couple of minutes later with an excellent Shane Conway sideline and he put them two up a minute later with a fine score from play.

Offaly were in serious bother and Kerry were winning a lot of the individual battles.

Offaly got a major break to lift the siege and turn the game in the 45th minute as Paddy Clancy's point shot hit the post and the rebound fell to Killian Sampson who fired to the net. Ciaran Burke, Liam Langton, Eoghan Cahill (two frees) and Paddy Clancy aded points and suddenly Offaly were in a 3-17 to 0-21 lead that they scarcely deserved after 50 minutes.

Now Offaly were winning battles all over the field and Kerry were making more than their quota of mistakes. A super Cahill free extended Offaly's lead, Colin Walsh hit the sidenetting with a goal chance that Kerry simply had to convert and the winners went for the jugular. Langton got an excellent point and a sensational John Murphy goal made it 4-19 to 0-21 after 54 minutes.

Kerry gave themselves a chance with a point and a Maurice O'Connor goal in the 56th minute as they trailed by 4-19 to 1-22. Shane Conway added a point and suddenly Offaly were fragile again but Jason Sampson settled them with a fine point.

A second Maurice O'Connor goal in the 63rd minute brought Kerry right back into it as they trailed by only a goal, 2-23 to 4-20. Offaly were living on their wits again. David Nally got a point but Kerry found another gear. In a frantic finish, Kerry almost pulled it out of the fire as they tore into Offaly with everything. They got five of the next six points with Colin Walsh's 73 minute score levelling it up and Offaly were staring devastation in the face but Nally rescued them with a sensational 75th minute winner – Killian Sampson missed a great chance to put two in it but Offaly were able to repel one last Kerry attack.

MAN OF THE MATCH

David Nally (Offaly): If you judged this game on the first fifty minutes, Ben Conneely was man of the match as he stamped his class on proceedings. Fionan McKessy was Kerry's outstanding performer but the man of the match is David Nally. He had long spells when he was a peripheral figure mixed in with very good moments but when it really mattered late on, he got the scores that kept Offaly alive and he displayed great leadership as he took on the big shots and converted them.

THE SCORERS

Offaly: Eoghan Cahill 0-10 (7f), Killian Sampson 2-0, David Nally 1-3, John Murphy 1-1, Liam Langton and Jason Sampson 0-2 each, Ciaran Burke, Ben Conneely, Brian Duignan, Luke O'Connor, Paddy Clancy 0-1 each.

Kerry: Padraig Boyle 0-15 (10f and 2 '65s'), Maurice O'Connor 2-0, Shane Conway 0-5 (1 sideline), Fionan MacKessy, Jordan Conway and Colin Walsh 0-2 each, Mike Ross and Colum Harty 0-1 each.

THE TEAMS

OFFALY: Stephen Corcoran (Coolderry); Jack Screeney (Kilcormac-Killoughey), Ciaran Burke (Durrow), David King (Coolderry); Eoghan Parlon (Coolderry), Ben Conneely (St Rynagh's), Ross Ravenhill (Durrow); Adrian Cleary (Shinrone), Jason Sampson (Shinrone); Brian Duignan (Durrow), Eoghan Cahill (Birr), Killian Sampson (Shinrone); David Nally (Belmont), John Murphy (Ballinamere), Luke O'Connor (St Rynagh's). Subs – Paddy Delaney (Kinnitty) for Ravenhill (11m), Paddy Clancy (Belmont) for Cleary (HT), Padraig Cantwell (Shamrocks) for Parlon (42m), Liam Langton (Clodiagh Gaels) for O'Connor (44m), Shane Dooley (Tullamore) for Cahill (65m).

KERRY: Louis Dee. Flor McCarthy, Eoin Ross, Eric Leen; Sean Weir, Mikey Boyle, Fionan MacKessy; Michael Leane, Colin Walsh; Padraig Boyle, Colum Harty, Paudie O'Connor; Fionan O'Sullivan, Niall Mulcahy, Shane Conway. Subs – Conor O'Keeffe for McCarthy (HT), Jordan Conway for O'Sullivan (HT), Maurice O'Connor for Harty (49m), Brian Lonergan for Mulcahy (69m)

Referee – Rory McGann (Clare).

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