Gallant Offaly bow out fighting and with pride intact

Gallant Offaly bow out fighting and with pride intact

A devastated Luke Egan after the final whistle.

GALLANT defeats and hard luck stories are certainly no good to Offaly hurlers and footballers as they bid to rise to another level but the U-20 hurlers can take great solace in the way they performed in a heartbreaking Leinster semi-final defeat to Dublin in Parnell Park this evening.

Leinster U-20 Hurling Championship semi-final

Dublin 2-15
Offaly 1-15

Offaly were very close to forcing extra time or even snatching a famous win in a game in which they looked in danger of heading to a heavy defeat at one stage. Behind by 1-5 to 0-1 after just seven minutes, Offaly eventually paid a dear price for that dreadful start and their failure to come to terms with flying Dublin forward Dara Purcell until the second half.

Purcell got 1-3 from play in the crucial opening salvo and all of his 1-5 came in the first half as Dublin led by 2-9 to 0-8 at half time. Dublin were full value for their lead at that stage and Offaly were living on their wits to a fair degree, despite improving as the half wore on.

Dublin led by 2-13 to 0-10 at the three quarter way mark and there was no real danger on the horizon even though it was now clear that they were no great shakes. Offaly had upped their work rate, intensity and tackling in the second half and suddenly Dublin looked fragile. They missed a couple of chances and their touch left them under pressure as they began to spill ball. Still a nine point lead looked more than sufficient to get them home but Offaly staged a terrific closing quarter.

Charlie Mitchell got a goal and the Offaly subs made their presence felt. Cathal Kiely, Ronan Cleary and Niall Lyons all asked serious questions of Dublin in the second half, getting scores from play with Cleary and Kiely also converting frees. The Dublin defence creaked at the knees and Offaly had it back to a point with a minute of normal time left, 1-15 to 2-13.

Unfortunately they couldn't get on terms and Dublin got the final two points but Offaly could still have forced extra time. They had a great chance right at the death as Luke Egan advanced on goals but his shot didn't have the required power and a relieved Dublin cleared the lines.

It was a very close run thing and Offaly could have qualified. It was good to see them so competitive and there was no shame in defeat. Dublin were marginally the better team and it took Offaly too long to find full momentum but when they did, they were more than a match for the winners. They made them look very vulnerable and the game was there for the taking inside the final few minutes.

It is a credit to Offaly that they were so close considering how poor they were early on and the fact that they trailed by nine with fifteen minutes left. Offaly could have been a bit closer at that stage and missed a few chances as well as conceding two soft first half goals but they were clearly second best.

Dara Purcell was the best player on the field, lightening up the first half with some excellent attacking play but Dara Maher really came into his own in the second half as he kept a tight reigns on him. Padraic Watkins was outstanding in an Offaly defence where Killian Sampson and Conor Hardiman also did well.

Cian Burke put in a tremendous shift at midfield while Jack Screeney worked hard beside him – Screeney found the range well with frees though he will be disappointed with a couple of his misses. D.J. McLoughlin had a decent first half in the attack but overall, the starting Offaly forwards didn't play well enough and it took the introduction of Kiely, Cleary and Lyons to spark them to life – Kiely had returned after a long battle with a groin injury and while he wasn't fully fit, he was a real menace and gave Offaly a new focus when moved into full forward. Cleary and Lyons also began to run at Dublin and it almost led Offaly to a great come from behind win.

Offaly made a nightmare start as Dublin came flying out of the blocks. The home side had 1-3 on the board inside four minutes as a shell shocked Offaly were struggling for air. The goal came from Dara Purcell after a bad mistake by goalkeeper Adam Fitxgerald who left the ball behind him as he came out for the ball.

Purcell was on fire early on and the Offaly defence couldn't cope with him. Purcell got 1-3 from play as Dublin led by 1-5 to 0-1 after seven minutes. Fortunately Offaly settled after this with Jack Screeney finding the range from frees. He got Offaly's first four points from frees as well as missing his easiest one while their first point from play was a great D.J. McLoughlin score in the 14th minute.

Offaly were much better now though Dublin had chances. Purcell hit the post with an instinctive point shot while Liam Dunne hit the side netting with a half goal chance. Offaly were behind by 1-5 to 0-6 at the water break and they were very happy to be in that position after that opening few minutes.

Offaly continued to battle with everything they had in the second quarter but Dublin remained the better team. The concession of a 24th minute goal was a dreadful blow to Offaly. It came just after Jack Screeney had missed a free he would usually convert and Dublin broke into attack. Padhraic Linehan was adjudged to have been fouled by Dara Maher and Ciaran Foley converted the penalty with Fitzgerald almost keeping it out.

A Screeney free and Cian Burke point from play had Offaly just four points behind, 2-6 to 0-8 after 27 minutes and that was no bad position for them to be in. Dublin, however, got the final three points of the half, two of them from the flying Purcell – the first one was almost a goal as his close range shot just floated over and then he got a beaut from play to give Dublin a 2-9 to 0-8 half time lead.

Dublin continued to impress as the better side in the second half even if they displayed a very vulnerable underbelly. They had a couple of very bad wides from play with Darragh Power and Donal Leavy missing easy chances but they still kept the scoreboard ticking along.

Offaly had introduced Cathal Kiely at half time. Kiely had come back after dealing with a groin injury and he took over the free taking duties, finding the range with a couple in the first fifteen minutes but also missing a “65” - that “65” came after Tom Dooley had a good goal chance for Offaly but his shot was saved by Ben Hynes in the 42nd minute.

A Joe Hoctor free left Offaly trailing by 0-11 to 2-13 at the second half water break and they were hanging on by their finger tips. A 48th minute Charlie Mitchell goal transformed Offaly – Mitchell drove to the net after good approach play by Niall Lyons and suddenly Dublin were creaking. D.J. McLoughlin failed to get hold of a goal chance but the half cleaerance fell to Joe Ryan who drove over the bar to make it a four point game.

Joe Hoctor reduced it to three and Offaly were now winning all the battles. Cathal Kiely cut it to two with four minutes left and Jack Screeney missed a great chance to really turn the screw from a free that he won. Niall Lyons and Cian Boyle swapped points as it went into six minutes of injury tie and Dublin clinging to a two point lead. Offaly couldn't manage another score as Foley's “65” after Adam Fitzgerald made a fine save from Cian Boyle got a very relieved Dublin across the line.

The scorers

Dublin: Ciaran Foley (goal from a penalty, 5f and 1 “65) 1-6, Dara Purcell 1-5 each, Donal Leavy, Liam Dunne, Cian Boyle and Kevin Lahiff 0-1 each.

Offaly: Jack Screeney 0-6 (6f), Charlie Mitchell 1-0, Cathal Kiely 0-3 (2f), Ronan Cleary 0-2 (1f), Cian Burke, D.J. McLoughin, Niall Lyons and Joe Ryan 0-1 each.

The teams

DUBLIN: Ben Hynes; Davy Crowe, Brian Sheedy, Iain O'Heithir; Paddy Doyle, Cian O'Cathsaigh, Patrick Dunleavy; Darragh Power, Donal Leavy; Darach McBride, Seamus Fenton, Padhraic Linehan; Ciaran Foley, Liam Dunne, Dara Purcell. Subs – Eddie Moran for O'Cathsaigh (25m), Kevin Lahiff for McBride (36m), Pearse Christie for Linehan (48m), Cian Boyle for Dunne (48m),.

OFFALY: Adam Fitzgerald (Birr); Peter Cleary (Shinrone), Dara Maher (Shinrone), Aaron Flanagan (Clodiagh Gaels); Padraic Watkins (Birr), Killian Sampson (Shinrone), Conor Hardiman (Kinnitty); Cian Burke (Coolderry), Jack Screeney (Kilcormac-Killoughey); Luke Egan (Tullamore), DJ McLoughlin (Shinrone), Tom Dooley (Seir Kieran); Charlie Mitchell (Kilcormac-Killoughey), Joe Ryan (Birr), Luke Nolan (Birr). Subs – Niall Lyons (Birr) for Flanagan, inj. (20m), Cathal Kiely (Kilcormac-Killoughey) for Cleary (H/T), Ronan Cleary (Ballinamere) for Dooley (42m), Joe Hoctor (Carrig and Riverstown) for Ryan (61m),

Referee – Gearoid McGrath.

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