Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Quarter-Final: Offaly 4-9 Kilkenny 0-26
For 30 minutes at O’Connor Park in Tullamore today, it looked like a shock was on the cards. The All-Ireland champions were four points down and struggling to contain a charged Offaly side determined to take the game to Kilkenny.
Two goals in the first 15 minutes were the reward for Offaly’s bold tactic of bombarding the Kilkenny full-back line with a series of high balls. The Cats’ vaunted defence was struggling and only for the home side’s indiscipline and Eoin Larkin’s accuracy from frees, they might have been in even bigger trouble than the 2-6 to 0-8 scoreline suggested.
And then, Kilkenny tip-toed back into the game, reducing the gap to just one at the break with the last three scores of the half. Manager Brian Cody, back stalking the sideline after an enforced absence, showed his displeasure with his attack, which yielded just three points from play in the first half, by bringing Walter Walsh on as a sub just before the break. Harsh words, no doubt, were spoken in the dressing room at the break.
Kilkenny were a side transformed at the start of the second half. With no great fuss, their attack suddenly found their stride and reeled off five points in a row. In fact, only a Shane Dooley point in the 44th minute broke a remarkable scoring sequence as Kilkenny moved 0-22 to 2-8 clear before Dan Currams struck for Offaly’s third goal against the run of play.
Such was the Cats’ superiority by that point, though, there was little chance of a dramatic conclusion. Matt Ruth and Walter Walsh added scores and it looked like a procession in the final minutes until Joe Bergin caused more panic in the Kilkenny defence to snatch his second goal in injury time.
The goal did little to take away from Kilkenny’s superiority, but their defence’s vulnerability to the high ball once again will be of concern to Cody ahead of a Leinster semi-final against Dublin or Wexford on June 23.
Offaly got off to the perfect start when full-forward Colin Egan found the back of the net following their very first attack of the game. Egan drove a shot past Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy after pouncing on the rebound after a Bergin shot had struck a post.
Larkin hit three placed balls in the next five minutes to draw the Cats level, before the All-Ireland champions were dealt a blow when corner back Jackie Tyrrell was forced off with a quad injury, with Conor Fogarty coming on in his place.
Offaly Corner back Chris McDonald struck a wonder point in the seventh minute and Shane Dooley landed his first of the game to ease the home side back into the lead. Incredibly, Offaly pinched a second goal after 14 minutes when Bergin again won the battle for the loose ball after a long puck-out and drove at the Cats’ defence before unleashing a super shot to the top corner. Offaly led by 2-2 to 0-4.
Kilkenny should have pulled a goal back after 20 minutes, but Colin Fennelly failed to finish after creating the chance himself, and then Aidan Fogarty fluffed his attempt to sweep home the loose ball. Offaly put it up to Kilkenny physically throughout the first half but they were punished for their indiscipline time after time by referee Alan Kelly. Larkin finished the half with eight points from placed balls, with Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan the only Kilkenny players to score from play in the opening half.
Offaly led by four points, 2-6 to 0-8, on the half hour mark when Brian Carroll drove over a fine score, but Brian Cody’s side hit the final three scores of the half to reduce the gap to just one at half-time. Cody brought All-Ireland final hero Walter Walsh on in place of Aidan Fogarty just before the break to shake up a miss-firing attack.
It worked, because Kilkenny were a different side at the start of the second half, firing over five points in a six-minute spell to overtake the hosts and then ease clear. They scored more from play in that purple patch than they managed in the entire first half, Richie Power grabbing two scores and Lester Ryan and TJ Reid also opening their accounts.
Kilkenny had hit eight points without reply when Dooley finally stemmed the tide with his side’s first score in 13 minutes. Kilkenny hit back with another five-point salvo. Late goals from Currams and then Bergin in injury time still left Offaly five points down when the final whistle sounded.
Offaly Scorers: C Egan 1-2, J Bergin 2-0, C McDonald 0-1, S Dooley 0-5 (0-4f, 0-1 65), B Carroll 0-1, D Currams 1-0.
Kilkenny Scorers: E Larkin 0-11 (0-10f, 0-1 65), R Hogan 0-3, A Fogarty 0-1, C Fennelly 0-1, TJ Reid 0-1, R Power 0-4 (0-1f), L Ryan 0-1, T Walsh 0-1, M Ruth 0-1, W Walsh 0-1, B Hogan 0-1.
Offaly: J Dempsey; C McDonald, D Kenny, K Brady, R Hanniffy, G Healion, C Parlon; C Mahon, D Mooney; C Egan, B Carroll, C Slevin; S Dooley, J Bergin, S Cleary. Subs: D Currams for S Cleary (HT), P Cleary for D Kenny (43), D Molloy for C Mahon (44), T Carroll for C Slevin, S Ryan for K Brady (both 51).
Kilkenny: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce; L Ryan, M Rice; TJ Reid, R Power, E Larkin; C Fennelly, R Hogan, A Fogarty. Subs:C Fogarty for J Tyrrell (6, inj), W Walsh for A Fogarty (34), M Ruth for E Larkin, K Buckley for TJ Reid (both 58), P Hogan for M Rice (59).
Referee: Alan Kelly