Jack Bryant clinches the match for Offaly with a late goal.
OFFALY showed fantastic guts and determination to reach the All-Ireland U-20 Football Championship final with a super win over Cork in Portlaoise on Saturday afternoon.
It was another sensational performance by Offaly and they fully deserved their win. It was tighter than it could have been and Offaly lived on their wits in the closing quarter but they were the better side by a distance and now face the winners of Down and Roscommon in the All-Ireland final.
Offaly's win was fashioned on a tremendous work ethic, complete honesty and hard work but with real quality thrown into a tantalising mix. There were great scenes of joy as Offaly supporters gathered on the pitch after the final whistle and this team has given a tremendous boost to the GAA in the county.
Offaly laid the foundations for their win with a magnificent first half display when playing with the wind. They led by 1-7 to 0-3 at half time and could have been out of sight. Offaly played some great football in the first half, working so hard and breaking forward at pace. They controlled most facets of the play and kept Cork scoreless from the 12th to 32nd minute.
The sides were level at 0-2 each after 12 minutes and Offaly ran Cork ragged for the next 20 minutes. The Munster champions had no answer to them as Offaly charged forward relentlessly. Cormac Egan's fisted point had them 0-3 to 0-2 ahead when Offaly missed two great goal chances in the space of a minute in the 18th minute. First full back Tom Hyland blazed wide after a great move. That may have been the case of the wrong man in the right position but a minute later it was very much the right man in the right place when Jack Bryant got the ball on the edge of the square but the result was the same, a wide.
Unperturbed Offaly kept driving forward and Cork were buckling at the knees. Wing back Adam Walsh-Murphy got a deserved black card in the 21st minute for pulling down the flying Cathal Flynn as Offaly turned the screw. Jack Bryant tapped over the free and then floated over a beaut from play. He then brought the Offaly crowd to their feet with a spectactular 25th minute goal, turning onto his left after a great Cathal Flynn pass and lifting the roof of the net. Lee Pearson and Bryant added points before Michael O'Neill's 32nd mintue free made it 1-7 to 0-3 at the break.
Aaron Kellaghan and Bryant (free) put Offaly nine clear early in the second half but it wasn't simple from here on as Cork showed their quality and the wind was also a factor. They got the next two points and Offaly missed a great chance to kill it off in the 38th minute when Cormac Egan's shot was saved but he should have passed across to the unmarked Aaron Kellaghan.
Cork got the next three points to bring it back to four but Offaly's next score was absolutely crucial with a sublime finish from Cathal Flynn in the 44th minute – after being put through on goal by Jack Bryant, he displayed real footballing intelligence by slipping the ball in under Gavin Creedon instead of trying to blast it.
Cork weren't done yet and it was real heart attack stuff from Offaly for a few minutes. Mistakes began to creep into their game and ones by John Furlong, Sean O'Toole and Lee Pearson helped Cork get back into it. They got six of the next seven points to reduce it to 0-14 to 2-10 with just four minutes left. It was here that Offaly showed incredible composure and character. When the pressure was at its most intense, they began to do the right thing again, holding onto possession and cutting out the mistakes. The ability to do that in those circumstances was the sign of a really good team.
Offaly defended brilliantly and broke in injury time for a match clincing goal from Jack Bryant after a great break forward by John Furlong. It was fitting that Bryant got that goal as he was the man of the match, scoring 2-4, 2-2 from play and showing so well for everything.
The Shamrocks man was brilliantly but Offaly had heroes all over the field and every player put his body on the line.The defence were magnificent with Sean O'Toole, Lee Pearson, John Furlong and Fionn Dempsey really impressing – the decision to switch Pearson to corner back and Dempsey to wing back worked very well. Oisin Keenan-Martin was also brilliant in a defensive role and his power on the ball constantly broke the tackle.
Ed Cullen was superb at midfield, working so hard and using the ball well. His performance was crucial as Morgan Tynan only got going in flashes and was replaced early in the second half while Ciaran O'Sullivan grew in stature for Cork as the game wore on.
Apart from Bryant, the Offaly attack also displayed a tremendous work ethic. Cathal Donoghue and Cathal Flynn were quite brilliant while Aaron Kellaghan worked his socks off before going off. Cormac Egan's pace caused Cork problems and he was sensational at times, though he needs to add a bit more vision to his game. Keith O'Neill also impressed when brought on but this was one of these games where every player did his bit and more.
OFFALY: Sean O'Toole (Shamrock); Aaron Brazil (Shannonbridge), Tom Hyland (Bracknagh), Lee Pearson (Edenderry); Rory Egan (Edenderry), John Furlong (Tullamore), Fionn Dempsey (Bracknagh); Ed Cullen (Clara), Morgan Tynan (Ballinagar); Cathal Flynn (Ferbane, Oisin Keenan-Martin, Cathal Donoghue (Kilcormac/Killoughey); Cormac Egan (Tullamore), Jack Bryant (Shamrocks), Aaron Kellaghan (Rhode). Subs – Keith O'Neill (Clonullogue) for Tynan (45m), Cormac Delaney (Clara) for Kellaghan (51m),
CORK: Gavin Creedon; Colm O'Donovan, Diarmaid Phelan, Conor McGoldrick; Adam Walsh-Murphy, Tommy Walsh, Darragh Cashman; Brian Hayes, Ciaran O'Sullivan; Michael O'Neill, Jack Cahalane, Niall Hartnett; Dara Dorgan, Colin Walsh, David Buckley. Subs – Sean McDonnell for Dorgan (29m), Sean O'Sullivan for O'Neill (33m), Darragh Holland for Walsh-Murphy (39m), Eoghan Nash for Hartnett (45m), Jack Kelleher for Walsh (52m),
Referee – Liam Devenney (Mayo).
MAN OFTHE MATCH
Jack Bryant (Offaly): Offaly had a few contenders while Cork had a serious player in midfielder Ciaran O'Sullivan. Cathal Flynn was very close for Offaly as he displayed great pace and maturity on the ball. Cathal Donoghue and Ed Cullen put in terrific shifts as did Lee Pearson at corner back but the claims of Jack Bryant just can't be ignored. His movement on and off the ball was top class, his finishing great and it was a real five star show by the Shamrocks man.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Offaly's second goal was Cathal Flynn in the 44th minute was absolutely crucial. It came at a time when Offaly were crying out for a score, it gave them a 2-9 to 0-8 lead and ultimately was enough of a cushion to get home.
Liam Devenney didn't win approval from either side for his handling of the game. Aaron Kellaghan had a penalty appeal waved away in the first half after he went down under a trip type challenge as he tried to manufacture a shot while Offaly also a legitimate appeal for one in the second half. He was quick to penalise over carrying and suspicious looking handpasses but he was very consistent in this. Adam Walsh-Murphy's first half black card for pulling down Cathal Flynn was one every day of the week. Overall, he was fair and certainly didn't favour either side.
It is a terrific achievement for this Offaly team to reach the All-Ireland final. No one could have forseen it at the start of the year and it could be a changing point for Offaly GAA. It is the outcome of great work at different levels in recent years and it will give Offaly football huge confidence.
It was great to see an increased crowd at this as normality slowly returns to society. They created plenty of noise with the Offaly support certainly in the majority. The Portlaoise venue was in fine order.
Offaly play Roscommon or Down in the All-Ireland final on the weekend of August 14/15, possibly in Croke Park.
Wides: Offaly – 11 (7 in first half); Cork – 6 (5 in first half).
Yellow cards: Offaly – 2 (Ed Cullen and Cathal Donoghue); Cork – 1 (Ciaran O'Sullivan).
Black cards: Offaly – 0; Cork – 1 (Adam Walsh-Murphy).
Red cards: 0.
Offaly: Jack Bryant 2-4 (2f), Cathal Flynn 1-0, Aaron Kellaghan 0-2 (1m), Lee Pearson, Morgan Tynan (free), Cormac Egan and Keith O'Neill 0-1 each.
Cork: David Buckley 0-5 (4f and 1m), Ciaran O'Sullivan 0-3, Brian Hayes (1f and 1 '45') and Colin Walsh 0-2 each, Michael O'Neill (f), Dara Dorgan (f) 0-1 each.
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