WHAT a difference a year makes!! Having suffered an agonising and traumatic Christy Ring Cup semi-final defeat to Down on penalties in Newry last November, Offaly turned the screw quite spectactularly here as they sauntered to a run away 5-25 to 1-19 win in Tullamore today.
Allianz National Hurling League Division 2A
It was a really impressive display by Offaly, putting the icing on a superb league campaign and booking promotion back to Division 1 hurling next year.
In many ways, it has been an extraordinary turnaround by Offaly. Last November, you would be wondering was Christy Ring their true level and would they be down in the third tier for a few years. They answered those questions fairly impressively here and it was another big win for Offaly. They have not only won their games but they have done so with real panache and style. The margin of victory over Meath, Kerry, Carlow and now Down has left absolutely no doubt that they are too strong for this division. They are playing with confidence and freedom and have really walked through this division.
Those four counties are also in a higher championship grade than Offaly, the Joe McDonagh Cup, and with an away trip against Wicklow next weekend, Michael Fennelly's charges can give players a much needed rest and give an opportunity to others.
They can also bask in the satisfaction of a job well done. Fennelly was unable to explain their improvement after the game as he insisted that their systems and preparations have been more or less the same. “They are showing their true worth and what they can do. I am delighted for them. As a unit, they are very close and very strong.”
He did point out that they are in summer hurling now compared to the winter fare last November and Offaly certainly looked much happier playing on dry fast ground here. They grabbed control from the throw in with a fantastic Brian Duignan goal and they played some really good hurling in the first twenty minutes – it was the first time in a long time that you could feel a tingle of excitement about Offaly hurling.
They had the game wrapped up at half time as they led by 3-11 to 0-8 and while Down were better in the second half, they were never in with a remote chance. A penalty goal from Conor Woods – David King was sin binned for the foul – reduced arrears to 3-15 to 1-10 but even Down knew that they could not pull this out of the fire.
Liam Langton and Eoghan Cahill with a clincially taken penalty goal put Offaly 5-16 to 1-13 clear in the 53rd minute and the closing quarter was really only of academic interest as both sides ran in a spate of subs.
It was appropriate that Langton and Cahill got those goals as they were two of the outstanding players on the field. Cahill once again top scored, this time with 1-11 and it was another sublime performance from the Birr scoring machine. He got five points from play and was wonderfully sharp – he also had a first half penalty saved early in the second half, deflected out for a “65” that he pointed.
Once again, Offaly were very hungry, very sharp and just very effective. They were fit, they tackled well and they worked hard. Not everything came off but they were clinical in most things they did and they put up another big tally. There are of course several step ups to be taken yet but it is impossible to avoid the impression that the steps forward Offaly are taking at the moment might e just a bit bigger than baby ones.
They were very solid defensively with Ciaran Burke, Killian Sampson and Ben Conneely outstanding. Leon Fox and Ross Ravenhill took the midfield honours while Jason Samspon had a super first half in attack, firing over three points, Brian Duignan was on song early on and Oisin Kelly played himself into the game, causing Down a load of problems.
For a few minutes in the first half, it was actually possible to feel a small bit excited about the future of Offaly hurling. They didn't sustain it to the interval and one was always conscious that it was the third tier of league hurling but it is a while since the words Offaly and excitement were mentioned in the same sentence.
They were excellent at times in the first half and their interval lead of 3-11 to 0-8 was a fair reflection of the way it went. Down just couldn't cope with Offaly's speed and intensity. Indeed, the visitors were actually fortunate to be that close at the break. Oisin Kelly hit the crossbar with a rasper in the 14th minute after brilliantly cutting in from the right and Brian Duignan was also wide with a decent half chance at goal, that he didn't properly catch hold off.
However, Offaly would gladly have taken a twelve point interval lead before the game and they played some really good stuff. They made a dream start with a great Brian Duignan goal after just thirteen seconds. Duignan gathered a break from the throw in and kept going as the Down defence backed off before driving a low shot to the net.
Down were grasping at straws and Offaly led by 1-7 to 0-3 after 13 minutes. After Kelly hit the cross bar, the ball found its way to Eoghan Cahill who pointed and then Liam Langton added a lovely point. By now Langton had played his way into the game and he put Offaly in control with an excellent 20th minute goal. The Clodiagh Gaels man went for it when the chance arose and put Offaly 2-9 to 0-4 clear.
Two minutes later and Offaly were 3-10 to 0-5 to the good with Oisin Kelly finishing very well after a long ball broke inside for him. It was at this stage that a tingle of excitement arose but Offay fell off the pace a bit in the closing minutes of the half. They were still the better team but they weren't quite as clinical and sharp. However that 3-11 to 0-8 lead still represented a very good 35 minutes work.
Offaly kept Down at arms length throughout the second half and the introduction of hungry subs ensured that they kept the pedal to the floor right to the final whistle.
Offaly; Eoghan Cahill 1-11 (Goal from a penalty, 4f and 2 '65's), Liam Langton 2-3, Jason Sampson and John Murphy 0-3 each, Brian Duignan and Oisin Kelly 1-0 each, Killian Sampson, Leon Fox, Aidan Treacy (f), David Nally and Shane Dooley 0-1 each.
Down: Paul Sheehan 0-5 (5f), Ronan Costello and Oisin MacManus (4f) 0-4 each, Conor Woods 1-0 (p), Eoghan Sands 0-3, Donal Hughes, Pearse Og McCrickard and Ryan McCusker 0-1 each.
OFFALY: Conor Clancy (St Rynaghs); Paddy Delaney (Kinnitty), Ciarán Burke (Durrow), David King (Coolderry); Joey Keenaghan (Clodiagh Gaels), Ben Conneely (St Rynaghs), Killian Sampson (Shinrone); Leon Fox (Belmont), Ross Ravenhill (Durrow); Jason Sampson (Shinrone), Oisin Kelly (Belmont) Brian Duignan (Durrow); Liam Langton (Clodiagh Gaels), Shane Kinsella (Kinnity), Eoghan Cahill (Birr). Subs – John Murphy (Ballinamere) for Duignan (44m), David Nally (Belmont) for Fox (58m), Aidan Treacy (St Rynagh's) for Keenaghan (58m), Conor Langton (Clodiagh Gaels) for Kinsella (58m), Paraic Guinan (Drumcullen) for Delaney (62m), Shane Dooley (Tullamore) for Ravenhill (62m), Luke O'Connor (St Rynagh's) for Jason Sampson (66m),
DOWN: Stephen Keith; Michael Hughes, Caolan Taggart, Conor Cassidy; Matt Conlon, Conor Woods, Liam Savage; Donal Hughes, Eoghan Sands; Pearse Og McCrickard, Paul Sheehan, Ronan Costello; Daithi Sands, Ryan McCusker, Jordan Doran. Subs – Phelim Savage for Doran (24m), Gerard Hughes for Michael Hughes (53m), Marc Fisher for McCrickard (53m), Oisin MacManus for Sheehan (53m), Ruairi Campbell for Donal Hughes (60m), P.J. Davidson for McCusker (60m), Donal Og Rooney for Cassidy (69m),
Referee – Shane Hynes (Galway).
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