Cathal Kiely, superb for Offaly.
AFTER a sluggish stuttering first half display with a strong wind on their backs, Offaly clicked into gear in the second half to pull away for a convincing and impressive win over Westmeath in Kilcormac's Faithful Fields.
Level at 1-8 to 2-5 five minutes from the break, Offaly looked to be in serious bother but three unanswered points before half time gave them a 1-11 to 2-5 half time lead and they never looked back from here.
The home side turned in a very polished second half display as they outscored Westmeath by 1-12 to 1-4 in the second half and they won pulling up to book a quarter-final clash against Dublin – unfortunately the competition is now on hold following the announcement earlier today that minor and U-20 competitions can't proceed under level 5 exemptions for sport.
Doubt over the fixture earlier in the day did not help either side though in fairness, Leinster Council moved quickly by confirming that it would go ahead while Offaly's preparations were thrown into total chaos when three of their starting fifteen were ruled out under Covid-19 protocols – Durrow's Ross Ravenhill and Brian Duignan and Shinrone's Killian Sampson. Ravenhill and Duignan are on the Offaly senior hurling panel and there are fears now about the implications their absence could have for Saturday's Christy Ring Cup opener against Kildare.
That certainly contributed to a somewhat disjointed first half by Offaly as they mixed the good with the very mediocre and only found true momentum in sporadic patches.
Westmeath were 0-2 to 0-1 ahead after eight minutes before Offaly hit top stride by scoring seven unanswered points in a scintilatting five minute spell. Ahead by 0-8 to 0-2 after fourteen minutes, it was set up for Offaly to move out of sight but instead they lost their way, floundering badly.
Poor defending allowed Danny McGrath in for an 19th minute goal but Offaly hit back immediately with a fine finish from Luke O'Connor to put them 1-8 to 1-3 ahead. Again, Offaly didn't take advantage and Westmath crept back into it with a penalty goal from Rory Keyes and two points putting them on level terms.
It didn't look good for Offaly but again, they provided the right answers and those points from Cathal Kiely, Luke Nolan and Luke O'Connor gave them a three point half time lead that they really needed.
Offaly owed a debt of gratitude to Cathal Kiely who was brilliant in the first half, slapping over six points, three of them from play while Padraig Cantwell and Conor Butler did trojan work in a defence that endured more pressure than they might have expected.
Those three points were absolutely crucial and the impression at half time that Offaly would up things in the second half proved absolutely correct. Offaly were excellent at times in the second half and never gave Westmeath a sniff of it. Getting on top all over the field, they scored three of the opening four points to move five clear and Westmeath had a mountain to climb.
Westmeath, who were missing some of their senior players, lacked the quality to pull that deficit back with points and they never looked like getting in for the goals they needed. Instead, Offaly began to open them up, winning most of the individual battles.
Cathal Donohue, a recent addition to the Offaly senior football panel, came into his own, firing over some quality opportunist points from plasy – getting four out of five Offaly points in one sensational second half spell.
Westmeath's heads dropped as the game wore on and the fight went out of them – a goal from Cathal O'Meara made it 2-21 to 2-8 with seven minutes left and Matthew Cunningham's injury time goal was of no real interest.
It ended up being a very satisfactory evening's work for Offaly and they have something tangible to build on for whenever the championship resumes. Cathal Kiely was the outstanding player on view – he got 12 points, five from play, assisted in a few more scores and his contribution when Offaly weren't going well in the first half was especially profound.
There were some other excellent performances. Football may be the preferred sport for Cathal Donoghue but he had a hugely productive evening as he scored five from play. Padraig Cantwell, thriving in a loose role in his defence, and Conor Butler stood out in a back division that ultimately got the job done. Luke Nolan had a fine game at midfield with good support from Kevin McDermott while Luke O'Connor showed flashes of real class in the attack and Lochlann Kavanagh did well off the bench.
Full report in Tullamore/Midland Tribune on Wednesday.
Offaly: Cathal Kiely 0-12 (7f), Cathal Donoghue 0-5, Luke O'Connor 1-1, Cathal O'Meara 1-0, Lochlann Kavanagh 0-2, Padraig Cantwell and Luke Nolan 0-1 each.
Westmeath: Rory Keyes 1-3 (goal from a penalty and 3f), Danny McGrath 1-1, Matthew Cunningham 1-0, Eoghan Ahearn, Eoin Daly, Owen McCabe, Pearse Weir Norris and Conor McKeogh 0-1 each.
OFFALY: Eamon Cleary (Shinrone), Jack Screeney (Kilcormac/Killoughey), Dra Maher (Shinrone), Padraig Cantwell (Shamrocks); Aaron Flanagan (Clodiagh Gaels), Conor Butler (Belmont), Rory Carty (Birr); Kevin McDermott (Durrow), Luke Nolan (Birr); D.J. McLoughlin (Shinrone), Cathal Kiely (Kilcomac/Killoughey), Lochlann Kavanagh (Kilcormac/Killoughey); Cathal Donoghue (Kilcormac/Killoughey), Cathal O'Meara (Clara), Luke O'Connor (St Rynagh's). Subs – Morgan Watkins (Birr) for McLoughlin (48m), Aaron Brazil (Shannonbridge) for Cantwell (49m), Dan Murray (Kilcormac/Killoughey) for O'Meara (53m), Cathal Flynn (Belmont) for O'Connor (60m).
WESTMEATH: Conor Lynch; Liam Moran, Feichin Og Brennan, Conor Regan; Eoin Kiernan, Jack Gillen, Eanna Burke; John Tumelty, Eoghan Ahearn; Eoin Daly, Rory Keyes, Luke Moore; Danny McGrath, Conor Murphy, Owen McCabe. Subs – Conor McKeogh for Daly (34m), Pearse WeirNorris for Tumelty (41m), Brendan McCarthy for Murphy (47m), Jamie Coffey for Regan (49m), Matthew Cunningham for Moore (51m).
Referee – Chris Mooney.