JOACHIM Kelly’s Offaly got their first taste of rubbing shoulders with camogie’s senior championship elite when they faced Kilkenny at sunny St Brendan’s Park, Birr last Saturday and while they performed spiritedly they found the step up in class too hot to handle.
Kilkenny enjoyed a 1-7 to 0-3 cushion after 18 minutes and credit to Offaly, the All-Ireland junior and intermediate champions of ’09 and last year, respectively, they rallied courageously and boosted by Tina Hannon’s goal they reduced the deficit to the minimum, 1-6 to 1-7 by the 22nd minute.
The ‘Cats’ ended the half impressively and their claws inflicted deep wounds with Edel Maher’s 26th minute hand-passed goal ensuring the visitors led by 2-9 to 1-7 at the break.
The Kilkenny onslaught didn’t abate on the resumption and further goals dispatched by Michelle Quilty and sub Marie O’Connor gave them a sizeable twelve point advantage, 4-13 to 1-10 after 45 minutes, which they subsequently didn’t relinquish.
Offaly’s 2008 All Star winner Michaela Morkan reacted quickest to the rebound after a 48th minute Elaine Dermody 21m free was saved to rifle a powerful first time strike to the roof of the net. Morkan, who collected the Jack McGrath Cup following last year’s All-Ireland Intermediate Final win over Wexford, was also fouled for a 60th minute penalty which she struck herself and the Kilkenny rearguard held firm
To compound Offaly’s frustration, they had corner forward Siobhan Flannery red carded in the fourth minute of additional time.
The St Rynagh’s girl, who scored two excellent points, picked up a second yellow card after a frontal challenge on Kilkenny centre back Claire Phelan. It was a harsh dismissal but with the referee being over fussy on many occasions there was always the danger a player might see red for an innocuous misdemeanour. After Dermody’s accurate 22nd minute free that left Offaly a solitary point adrift, 1-6 to 1-7, the ‘Cats’ outscored the ‘Faithful’ girls by 3-6 to 0-4 over the 23 minutes that immediately followed, making it 4-13 to 1-10 with 45 minutes elapsed.
Ironically, last year en-route to securing All-Ireland intermediate honours, Offaly endured difficulties during the second third of games and it was in that second third where Kilkenny inflicted most of the damage. Offaly’s next three games in this gruelling championship, where they are in action on seven consecutive Saturdays, are away and this Saturday they are due to face Tipperary (who defeated Dublin in round one) at The Ragg.
The top four counties after the round robin series will make up the semi-final pairings and while manager Joachim Kelly has declared that the ambition is to book a penultimate round berth, perhaps a more realistic target would be to try to achieve victories over Dublin (away round three) and Clare (home round seven) and build on this in 2012.
The step up to senior is a huge one and while Offaly are embracing the challenge they do need time to garner experience and adjust to their new lofty surrounds. They will improve and hopefully they can stay injury free especially since the depth of resources in the ‘Faithful County’ isn’t as plentiful as it is in the likes of Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway, Cork and reigning All-Ireland senior champions Wexford.
The respective full forwards Michelle Quilty (from a disputed ’45) and Elaine Dermody traded points, before Kilkenny’s excellent Ann Dalton hoisted over two points of the highest quality, 0-3 to 0-1 after 6 minutes. A foul on Siobhan Flannery enabled Dermody to fire over Offaly’s second point and the ‘Cats’ replied by registering 1-3 without reply, making it 1-6 to 0-2 after 14 minutes. Dalton (2) and Quilty (free) grabbed the points and Quilty found the net in the tenth minute with a hand-passed effort.
Tina Hannon notched Offaly’s opening point from play in the 16th minute and Aine Fahey hit back with a similar score for the visitors. Offaly’s purple patch arrived between the 19th and 22nd minutes. Dermody confidently converted three frees and Hannon, now operating at centre forward after Arlene Watkins (who sustained broken ribs during Offaly’s Leinster Senior C’ship Final loss against Wexford) moved to corner forward and Siobhan Flannery to mid-field, blasted in a fine goal. A point behind, 1-6 to 1-7, the Offaly supporters began to get behind their team but Kilkenny mercilessly knocked the wind out of their sails as Denise Gaule released Edel Maher and she sent another hand-pass beyond Offaly custodian Michelle Gleeson.
Dermody chalked up her sixth point and Kilkenny rounded off the half with points by Gaule and Quilty (free), 2-9 to 1-7 at half time. Offaly desperately needed a positive start to the concluding half and the opposite occurred as within 90 seconds Quilty, whose stick work was a joy to behold, tucked away a goal. Maher added a point making it 3-10 to 1-7. Arlene Watkins, Siobhan Flannery and Dermody (free) replied with Offaly points but over the next five minutes Kilkenny put the issue beyond doubt. Quilty (a free & ’45) and Dalton arrowed over points and sub Marie O’Connor netted their fourth goal, 4-13 to 1-10 with 45 minutes elapsed. Michaela Morkan’s goal lifted Offaly briefly. Quilty (free) and Flannery swapped points, 2-11 to 4-14 after 50 minutes, and over the remaining ten minutes plus six of additional time, the ‘Cats’ added a further three points courtesy of Fahey, Quilty and O’Connor. A Morkan penalty was saved and Kilkenny held out for an emphatic twelve point victory. Kilkenny were superior physically and their striking, wrist work and combination play was also on a higher plateau. Elaine Aylward and Claire Phelan performed strongly in an accomplished Kilkenny half back division and up front the stars of the show were Michelle Quilty and Ann Dalton who contributed 2-12 between them – more than Offaly’s 2-11 total. Of the four first round games played last Saturday none of the home teams recorded victories and Offaly’s 2-11 total was the highest registered by any of the losing counties. Siobhan Flannery was the only one of Offaly’s starting six forwards that scored more than once from play and this statistic will have to be improved upon over the course of the campaign. Fiona Stephens, Michaela Morkan and Marion Crean defended resiliently in the face of incessant pressure.
SCORERS Offaly: Elaine Dermody (0-7 frees), Tina Hannon (1-1), Michaela Morkan (1-0), Siobhan Flannery (0-2), Arlene Watkins (0-1). Kilkenny: Michelle Quilty (2-7, 0-4 frees & 0-2 ‘45’s), Ann Dalton (0-5), Edel Maher (1-1), Marie O’Connor (1-1), Aine Fahey (0-2), Denise Gaule (0-1).
Offaly 4 (2 1st half); Kilkenny 8 (4 1st half)
Red (1): Siobhan Flannery (64 mins).
Yellow (6): Claire Phelan (38 mins), Lorraine Keena (40 mins), Siobhan Flannery (42 & 64 mins), Marion Crean (49 mins), Colette Dormer (61 mins).
OFFALY: Michelle Gleeson; Fiona Stephens, Lorraine Keena, Karen Brady; Jean Brady, Michaela Morkan, Marion Crean; Sheila Sullivan, Tina Hannon; Aoife Kelly, Arlene Watkins, Ailsa Hughes; Linda Sullivan, Elaine Dermody (capt.), Siobhan Flannery. Subs: Karen Nugent for K Brady (26 mins), Eamma Dunne for L Sullivan (49 mins).
KILKENNY: Catriona Ryan; Colette Dormer, Catherine Doherty, Jacqui Frisby; Keeve Fennelly, Claire Phelan, Elaine Aylward; Sarah Ann Quinlan, Kelly Hamilton; Denise Gaule, Ann Dalton, Aoife Neary; Edel Maher, Michelle Quilty, Aine Fahey. Subs: Marie O’Connor for SA Quinlan (41 mins), Ruth Jones for K Fennelly (52 mins), Aisling Dunphy for K Hamilton (53 mins).
REFEREE: Karl O’Brien, Dublin.