Niall McNamee tussles for the ball.
OFFALY won't be in the market for consolation pats on the backs and won't want to hear talk of moral victories but they certainly gave a very good account of themselves as they bowed out of the Leinster Senior Football Championship with a heartbreaking four point defeat against Kildare.
Played under floodlights in Portlaoise's O'Moore Park, Offaly were within touching distance of a famous win. Battling with ferocious heart and determination, they produced their best performance of the season by a distance and were closer to the win than the four point winning margin here would suggest.
With two minutes of normal time left, Offaly trailed by just a point, 0-16 to 0-15 and there was a golden opportunity in touching distance for them. They couldn't grasp it as Kildare got three on the trot, two frees from impressive sub Neil Flynn and an excellent point from play from Paul Cribbin to go four clear. Anton Sullivan kept Offaly alive as he cut it to three but a closing free from Neil Flynn restored the four point gap.
It is a measure of how competitive Offaly were, the way they put it up to Kildare that the winners were very relieved to hear the final whistle and they knew this result could very easily have went wrong for them. They were marginally the better team – they had fourteen wides compared to three for Offaly and that does tell a tale about who enjoyed the most possession but they were never comfortable for one minute and this game went right down to the wire.
It was an old fashioned Offaly performance, full of heart and determination with a powerful work ethic thrown into a compelling mix. They will be very disappointed to lose but at least the manner of defeat gives them something to build on, something tangible to take out of a season which hadn't ignited up to this.
Offaly had struggled in their league defeats by Derry and Tipperary after the resumption of activity while there was little in the championship win over Carlow to suggest that they could shock Kildare here. Yet it almost emerged and while Kildare easily “won” the wide count, Offaly had the best two goal chances of the evening – Cian Farrell had a great chance in the 20th minute after a sensational cross field pass from Anton Sullivan but Shea Ryan got back to make the block while Bernard Allen drew an excellent save from Mark Donnellan six minutes into the second half.
It was a pity that Offaly didn't get one of those and ask the really serious questions of Kildare. The winners certainly looked vulnerable on the day and a second half goal in particular might well have ignited an Offaly victory charge. We will never know but Offaly were close here.
Kildare won because of two primary things – a superb display from full forward Darragh Kirwan, who fired over six points, one mark and caused the Offaly defence ferocious problems. They never got to grips with him and he was the man of the match by a distance. Midfielder Kevin Feeley also had a profound impact and while Offaly competed with everything they had out here, the Athy man was the standout figure.
Despite the loss, you couldn't find fault with much of Offaly's display. They could have tried things when it became clear Kirwan was doing harm on Declan Hogan and there were a few mistakes made but that will always happen in championship football and the same can be said of Kidare.
After a few hairy early moments, Paddy Dunican began to find his man with increasing accuracy from play and kickouts while Niall Darby, Eoin Carroll and Johnny Moloney had excellent games in defence – Carroll's influence increased when he went out to midfield after Jordan Hayes, who sustained a broken toe in the win over Carlow, only lasted 26 minutes with Joey O'Connor coming onto the half back line.
Cathal Mangan was very brave at midfield, working his socks off while Cian Farrell was Offaly's best player. It was a real coming of age evening for the Edenderry man as he oozed classm kicking seven points, three of them from play. He went back a bit deep in the second half but he had an excellent evening. On a day when it didn't quite happen for Niall McNamee, his first cousin Ruari McNamee really came into his own in the second half whle Anton Sullivan and Bernard Allen had very good moments – Peter Cunningham was another who didn't find his A game and he was called ashore after 56 minutes.
From the throw in, it was clear that Offaly were really up for this and it would be no processuion for Kildare. Offaly competed in every aspect of play and while they had to dig deep to hang on, they never allowed Kildare build up a telling gap.
The winners led by two points on six different occasions in the first half but never got it out to three – they were 0-3 to 0-1 ahead after seven minutes, 0-4 to 0-2 after thirteen, 0-5 to 0-3 on 16, 0-6 to 0-4 on 18, 0-8 to 0-6 on 27 and 0-9 to 0-7 in the 31st minute. However, each time, Offaly managed to get a crucial score to keep them in touch – the superb Cian Farrell got five first half points, two from play while Niall McNamee, at times, and Bernard Allen also prospered in a dangerous looking full forward line.
Points from Niall McNamee (free) and Cian Farrell ('45') had Offaly level at 0-9 each in injury time before Darragh Kirwan's point gave Kildare a 0-10 to 0-9 lead at the break.
It was all to play for in the second half and Offaly never stopped trying, There was still a point in itm, 0-12 to 0-11 after 42 minutes but Aaron Masteron's fine point was followed by that missed goal chance from Bernard Allen. That was a major turning point and Kildare finally got three in front with a super Ben McCormack score. Jimmy Hyland (free) extended it to four and it looked bleak for Offaly but again, they stuck to their task.
They got the next two to bring it back to two, Kirwan put Kildare three ahead and then Cian Farrell ('45') and Paddy Dunican (free) pointed to cut the gap to the minimum with five minutes left. A shock loomed large but Kildare got four of the closing five points to shut that door.
Kildare: Darragh Kirwan 0-6 (1m), Paddy Brophy and Neil Flynn (3f) 0-3 each, Jimmy Hyland (1f) and Ben McCormack 0-2 each, Darragh Malone, Aaron Masterson, Daniel Flynn and Paul Cribben 0-1 each.
Offaly: Cian Farrell 0-7 (2f and 2 '45s), Niall McNamee 0-3 (3f), Ruari McNamee 0-2, Paddy Dunican (f), Bernard Allen, Joey O'Connor and Anton Sullivan 0-1 each.
OFFALY: Paddy Dunican (Shamrocks); Declan Hogan (Tullamore), Eoin Rigney (Rhode), Niall Darby (Rhode); Eoin Carroll (Cappincur), Johnny Moloney (Tullamore), Colm Doyle (Clara); Cathal Mangan (Kilclonfert), Jordan Hayes (Edenderry); Peter Cunningham (Bracknagh), Ruairi McNamee (Rhode), Anton Sullivan (Rhode); Bernard Allen (Tubber), Niall McNamee (Rhode), Cian Farrell (Edenderry). Subs - Joey O'Connor (St Rynagh's) for Hayes (26m), Rory Egan (Edenderry) for Cunningham (56m), Carl Stewart (Clara) for Mangan (65m), Conor McNamee (Rhode) for Ruari McNamee (67m), Aaron Leavy (Tullamore) for Allen (70m),
KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Mark Dempsey, Shea Ryan, Darragh Malone; David Hyland, Con Kavanagh, Kevin Flynn; Kevin Feeley, Aaron Masterson; Paddy Brophy, Ben McCormack, Fergal Conway; Daniel Flynn, Darragh Kirwan, Jimmy Hyland. Subs – Mattie Byrne for Conway (H/T), Paul Cribben for Daniel Flynn (41m), Neil Flynn for McCormack (54m), Luke Flynn for Masterson (59m), Eoin Doyle for Kevin Flynn (67m),
Referee – David Coldrick (Meath).