Sports

Improved Performance Not Enough As Offaly Let Great Chance Slip Through Fingers

Thursday, 23 March 2017

STILL smarting from their thirty point annihilation in Armagh, Offaly gave a much improved performance against high flying Tipperary in Tullamore on Sunday but it was still a familiar result as a four point defeat leaves them staring down the barrel of a gun and in a desperate battle to avoid a return to Division 4 football.

TIPPERARY ...2-15
OFFALY ...2-11

This was much better by Offaly as they played well for a good forty five minutes but lost their way as the game entered its most critical stage and were overhauled and over ran by Tipperary in the all important closing quarter.

A well taken Joe O'Connor goal four minutes into the second half after a very good interchange with Sean Doyle put Offaly into a 2-9 to 1-6 lead and they were ideally poised to claim a morale boosting win that would really have eased their relegation worries.

While the wind was in their face, Offaly were playing well as O'Connor's goal came fast on the heels of lovely points from Nigel Dunne and Shane Nally, and the home side had a very significant advantage.

It went generally downhill from here, though, as Offaly could only manage two more points and Tipp scored 1-9 to remain firmly on course for promotion. By any standards, being out scored by 1-9 to 0-2 in thirty minutes of football represents a real collapse and Offaly were completely outplayed in this spell.

Prior to that, Tipperary had looked a very mediocre outfit. Maybe they took Offaly a bit for granted after that Armagh fiasco but they were off the pace, floating through the motions and making a large volume of errors as Offaly took a quiet control of the game.

After O'Connor's goal, they gradually crept back into it, scoring four points in twelve minutes to cut the gap to two points and by now the alarm bells were ringing for Offaly. A stunning individual goal from Michael Quinlivan in the 52nd minute when he raced into space and blasted a ferocious drive to the roof of Alan Mulhall's net gave Tipp a 2-10 to 2-9 lead and the momentum was firmly in the hands of the visitors.

Offaly did fight hard and a Nigel Dunne point leveled it up two minutes later but two points in the space of a minute from Conor Sweeney and Jack Kennedy put Tipp two up with sixteen minutes left. There was still a lot of football to be played but the impression that Offaly were 'gone' was unavoidable and proved to be correct as Tipperary scored three of the last four points to win by four.

There were encouraging aspects from Offaly with some particularly good individual performances but there were more grounds for concern than anything else here as they lost that six point lead with almost remarkable ease and even when there was only a couple of points in it, they looked a beaten docket. In the closing quarter, the body language and energy of the Offaly players just looked wrong and Tipp were able to storm over the finish line to keep their promotion hopes well and truly on track.

Offaly ended the game with thirteen players as Peter Cuningham received a second yellow card three minutes from time - Michael Brazil and Tipp midfielder, George Hannigan had received straight reds in the 17th minute when a melee erupted while Tipp were attacking at the opposite end of the field.

With the wind on their backs, Offaly played fairly well in the first half, though the quality of the game was very average and there was no great intensity to it. Offaly trailed by 0-3 to 0-2 when a very fortunate goal from Nigel Dunne (though it might be stretching things to credit the Shamrocks man with it) in the 13th minute gave them the initiative. Dunne's shot from out on the wing was a quite poor one but Tipp goalkeeper, Evan Comerford seemed to get caught in two minds, fumbled the ball and it went into the net after contact with Shane O'Connell.

Offaly's football was not particularly sharp as they made some errors but their commitment levels were high and Tipp, who were just off the pace in the first half, struggled to cope.

Offaly were 1-4 to 0-5 ahead when Tipp centre back, Robbie Kiely got forward for a 27th minute goal - he had blasted over the bar three minutes earlier when a goal was on the cards - to put them in the lead.

Offaly's response was very impressive and they played their best football before half time. Points from the hard working Shane Nally, Nigel Dunne (free) and Bernard Allen (free) gave them a 1-7 to 1-5 interval lead and they were in a good position, even though the wind was against them in the second half.

The result now leaves Offaly in a desperate fight against relegation and with it looking increasingly unlikely that Niall McNamee will play any part in the league, they will find it very difficult to stay out of division 4. With an away game to Sligo and home match against Laois to come, survival is still a definite possibility but the odds are now stacking up against Offaly.

There were some very encouraging things here, particularly in the first forty five minutes when Offaly produced some outstanding individual performances. Brian Darby, Peter Cunningham and Sean Pender were outstanding in this period in the defence as they really carried the challenge to Tipp and Eoin Carroll, Shane Nally, Nigel Dunne and Bernard Allen also had their moments but ultimately it was a disappointing result and the overall performance was well short of what was needed.

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