Liam O'Connor Cup U-20 Football League
WITH members of his family watching on, Offaly did the memory of the late Liam O'Connor justice when they gave a fine attacking display to dismantle a mediocre Limerick side in the new U-20 Football League on Wednesday evening.
Named for the late Liam O'Connor, full back on the Offaly side that won the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship in 1982, this competition is an important part of the U-20s' preparations as they begin their count down to their June 22 championship opener away to Carlow.
This was a very promising start by them. Limerick were poor on the day, not helped by their late arrival at Bord na Mona O'Connor Park after their team bus was held up by an accident and that has to loom large in any analysis of the game by manager Declan Kelly (Kilclonfert) and selectors, David Connolly (Bracknagh), Ken Furlong (Tullamore) and Ger Rafferty (St Rynagh's).
There is way bigger fish to fry on the road ahead but even taking all that into account, there was a lot to enthuse about with this Offaly display. They were very solid, professional in most things they did. They retained possession well but it was an attack minded display as they focused on getting quick ball into a forward line where the two Cian's, Farrell and Johnson, particularly Johnson fired on close to all cylinders.
The result was a very comfortable and comprehensive win that was never in doubt. Johnson was magical in the first half, showing great awareness and an ability to manufacture shots in the tightest of spaces. He scored four poacher's points in the first half, set up Kevin McDermott's goal and added another point in the second half (off his weaker right foot), set up Jack Bryant's goal and should have got a goal himself when drawing a good save from Cian Walsh.
Cian Farrell also showed his immense class at centre half forward as he scored seven points, four from frees and some of his passes and general play took the breath away. There was a lot more to this Offaly display than two players, however, and it was an extremely solid all round performance with a great work ethic throughout the field.
The defence were rarely extended but coped very well with most of what came their way while Jack McEvoy and Cathal Donoghue made some fine catches and worked very diligently at midfield. Offaly's attacking performance was the highlight here with Jack Bryant also standing out in a really hard working display and all the other players and subs doing the simple thing very efficiently and contributing to a good win.
It was clear from the start that this was not going to be much of a contest. Offaly tore into their opponents from the throw in, attacking at pace and scoring six points in the opening eight minutes – Cian Farrell could got a goal when shooting from inside the penalty area.
Limerick settled a bit after that and got two frees from John Hayes and Jack Downey as Offaly's tackling let them down a small bit but it was only a brief reprieve. In the 16th minute, Offaly got a great goal that reflected all that was good about this performance – Kevin McDermott had foraged deep to win possession and was fouled, Jack Bryant took the quick free and the ball went through Cian Johnson and back to McDermott who had charged forward at pace with the Durrow man driving the ball to the net.
It was all one way traffic in the remainder of the half and Offaly scored six points without reply to lead by 1-12 to 0-2 at half time – the highlight was an audacious attempt by Cian Johnson who spotted the goalie out of the goals from forty yards and went for goal but the ball just bounced over the bar.
There was no way Limerick were coming back from here and their misery deepened on the resumption when shocking defending allowed Cian Johnson set up Jack Bryant for a goal. Cian Farrell added a point that could have been a goal and Offaly visibly eased off from here on.
They ran in a spate of subs but there was also a visible lowering of intensity with the game in the bag. Had they really went for the jugular, they would have won by a lot more but there was no need to and Offaly were right to give other players a chance.
It allowed Limerick to salvage some pride. They scored seven out of the next nine points but still trailed by 2-15 to 0-9 with just over three quarters of the hour gone. Offaly finished on the attack as subs Peter Byrne and Nathan Poland contributed to the score sheet and Cian Farrell also missed a good goal chance.
OFFALY: Jack Cullinan (Ferbane); Aaron Brazil (Shannonbridge), Adam Bolger (Daingean), Clive Keena (Ballycumber); Ciaran Donnelly (Bracknagh), Ed Bennett (Clonbullougue), Pa Fahy (Tullamore); Jack McEvoy (Clonbullogue), Cathal Donoghue (Kilcormac/Killoughey); Seanie Farrell (Tubber), Cian Farrell (Edenderry), Shane O'Toole-Greene (Shamrocks); Cian Johnson (Ferbane), Jack Bryant (Shamrocks), Kevin McDermott (Durrow). Subs - Nathan Poland (Erin Rovers) for Johnson (44m), Peter Byrne (Clonbullogue) for McEvoy (44m), Mikey Cunningham (Bracknagh) for Seanie Farrell (49m), Aidan Bracken (Ballycommon) for Bennett (51m), Dan Wyer (Durrow) for O'Toole-Greene (52m), Eoin Dunne (Edenderry) for Donoghue (54m).
LIMERICK: Cian Walsh; Jack Fitzgerald, Karol Moloney, Tim Lyons; Cillian Ferris, Lee Woulfe, Dughan O'Grady; Noel Callnan, James Cummins; Reubhan McCarthy, Barry Coleman, Adam Shanagher; Jack Downey, James Molyneaux, John Hayes. Subs – Brian Foley for Lyons (Half time), Darragh Lane for Cummins (37m), Darragh Woulfe for McCarthy (45m), James Garvey for Shanagher (52m), Niall McAuliffe for Downey (57m).
Referee – Barry Tiernan (Dublin).
MAN OF THE MATCH
Cian Johnson (Ferbane): Cian Farrell was excellent, showing his class at centre half forward, but Cian Johnson's contribution is impossible to ignore, even though he was on the field for only 44 minutes. His finishing and awareness was of a high calibre and he showed his importance to this Offaly side – there had been fears that he would not be on the panel after he was absent from some training a couple of months ago for a period as he dealt with an injury problem but thankfully he came back, and with him on board, Offaly's chances of progress are well enhanced.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Offaly's first goal in the 16th minute stood out for two reasons. Kevin McDermott's strike gave Offaly a 1-6 to 0-2 lead but also showed what was so encouraging about this performance as he won the free that led to the goal after he ran fifty metres to get back into position.
Barry Tiernan was not a factor at all and had a fine game. He made one debatable call, blowing the whistle for a Jack McEvoy mark but then allowing Limerick to attack after the ball was spilt when he was hit on landing on the ground but it was a near flawless display by the Dubliner.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
There were a couple of sporadic occasions when Offaly's defensive tackling was not as good as it could have been. These were not many but it is still something for Offaly to work on.
The game was well hosted by the Offaly GAA County Board and the nice sized crowd showed the appetite among the public for midweek fixtures. It was also nice to see children and grandchildren of the late Liam O'Connor at the match.
Offaly play Wicklow in Aughrim this Saturday.
Wides: Offaly – 8 (3 in first half); Limerick – 5 (1 in first half).
Yelllow cards: Offaly – 0; Limercik – 3 (Jack Fitzgerald, Lee Woulfe and Jack Downey).
Black cards: 0.
Red cards: 0.
Offaly: Jack Bryant 1-4 (1f), Cian Farrell 0-7 (4f), Cian Johnson 0-5, Kevin McDermott 1-1, Peter Byrne and Nathan Poland 0-1 each.
Limerick: John Hayes (3f) 0-3, Barry Coleman and Jack Downey 0-2 (1f) each, Cillian Ferris, Dughan O'Grady and Adam Shangher 0-1 each.