Hurlers shine, footballers flounder at snow delayed O'Connor Park double bill

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Hurlers shine, footballers flounder at snow delayed O'Connor Park double bill thumbnailA snow-covered O’Connor Park on Sunday the 18th of March which forced the postponement of Offaly v Kilkenny and Offaly v Sligo to Monday.

THERE was very different and conflicting emotions for Offaly GAA supporters as they observed a big National Hurling and Football League double bill in Bord na Mona O'Connor Park on Monday - deferred by a day from Sunday when the fixtures fell victim to the heavy overnight snow that engulfed the ground.

While the hurlers lost their quarter-final to Kilkenny, agonisingly by one point, 0-24 to 1-19, in a tremendously entertaining shoot out and the footballers drew, 0-8 each, with Sligo in their high stakes relegation showdown, there was no doubt that it was the hurling camp who were the happier afterwards.

It was the first time in years that Offaly have went toe to toe with Kilkenny in such a manner and they were very close to a famous win. Two Shane Dooley points, one from a free and the first a sensational score from out on the left wing, had pushed Offaly onto level terms, 1-19 to 0-22 as the game drifted into injury time. It was within touching distance for Offaly but it was the red hot favourites who struck gold in injury time with T.J. Reid converting a point and then man of the match Walter Walsh striking over a sublime point after brilliantly winning the ball to seal the win.

Kilkenny owed a debt of gratitude to Reid and Walsh for their win. They were the two forwards who really stepped up to the mark with Reid scoring twelve points, nine from frees while Walsh got five from play and the Offaly defence never really got to grips with his physical presence and overall quality.

It was a relieved Kilkenny side that walked off the field afterwards and they had been given one major fright by Offaly. With the wind on their backs in the first half, Offaly had displayed a great work ethic throughout the field. Showing great strength on and off the ball, they fought tenaciously for everything and a Conor Mahon goal three minutes from the break gave them a deserved 1-10 to 0-10 half time lead.

Early in the second half, it looked like normal service would resume as Kilkenny came flying out of the blocks and got the first four points to lead by 0-14 to 1-10 after 43 minutes. Offaly dug deep after this and showed great courage as Kilkenny couldn't get further than three points ahead.

Offaly were level with five minutes left and at the death but both times it was Reid and Walsh that provided the right answers for Kilkenny, getting the points that put them two ahead and left the home side just short.

For Offaly manager, Kevin Martin it represented another huge stepping stone - though there are important caveats to be stressed: Kilkenny do not look to be anywhere near the powerful force that they were just a few years ago while they may also have been a bit complacent on the day.

However, it is very much another step in the right direction for Offaly who are now on the right road for the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship, where their initial priority is to avoid relegation - they are at home to Galway on May 12, away to Kilkenny on May 20, at home to Wexford on May 26 and away to Dublin for what could well be the crunch game on June 3.

If the hurlers were happy in a brave defeat, the footballers were very disappointed in their draw with Sligo, that leaves them on a relegation tight rope and travelling to Mullingar for a must win game next Sunday. With Wexford already relegated to Division 4 defeat will put Offaly down, a draw will almost certainly put them down and a win will save their bacon unless Sligo and Derry draw in Sligo - it is down to this three for the final relegation berth.

Offaly, on three points, have an inferior scoring difference to Sligo and Derry who are both on four points, and their footing is very precarious. A surprise defeat for Westmeath in Longford last Sunday has effectively doomed their relegation hopes - Armagh are promoted and will be joined by the winners of Longford and Fermanagh on Sunday.

While Westmeath will essentially be fighting for local pride rather than promotion, the odds are stacked against Offaly, who let a golden chance slip on Sunday. In a very poor game of football, Offaly were in a good position when leading by 0-4 to 0-2 at half time after playing against the wind. Sligo were shocking in the first half and it was set up for Offaly to win when they led by 0-6 to 0-3 seven minutes into the second half but they didn't push it on for here.

Offaly could only manage two further points as they resorted into a defensive shell that was quite painful to watch - playing a short passing defensive game and not attacking Sligo when they were on the ropes.

It let Sligo off the hook with a free from Niall Murphy five minutes into injury time giving them a draw in a game where neither side played well enough to deserve to win.

See pages 62 and 63 for a report on Offaly v Kilkenny and pages 60 and 61 for coverage of Offaly v Sligo and Sunday's big game in Westmeath.




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