Foley awesome as Offaly hit by Limerick backlash

NO WONDER English is such a difficult language to master.

A week ago Joe McKenna resigned as Limerick manager after a 17-point beating by Clare in the first round of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship qualifying series.

On Saturday evening, second round, Offaly manager John McIntyre was resigned to defeat, beaten by 10 points by more or less that same Limerick side. Well, more, much more, because this was a different Limerick.

"Hurling needs a strong Limerick, but it also needs a strong Offaly," said a dejected McIntyre. "On the evening we were simply not good enough. Since last November we’ve been as professional as we possibly could. We have to try dust ourselves down, lift ourselves for an awful task against Clare next week. Sport is all about highs and lows but unfortunately we’re having too many lows. We’re a young team, every defeat we have like that is a fierce knock to their confidence."

Harsh reality yes, because in the form they were in on Saturday, Limerick would have been a test for the best, and Offaly aren’t quite up to that standard yet. Three weeks ago the Offaly forwards scored just eight points but lost by only one to Wexford in the Leinster semi-final. On Saturday they managed 2-19 and lose. No consolation for John Mac.

"I don’t think too many teams lose when you score 2-19 but that was the nature of the game. We didn’t score enough on the evening. In fairness to Limerick, they showed a lot of bottle, they haven’t got to the league final for nothing. They have a bit of a pedigree, three All-Ireland U-21’s in a row, where Offaly haven’t been productive enough at underage. You’re not going to come from nowhere with a senior team without some sort of signs there’s something coming at underage level."

Equally baffling was Limerick’s performance. Their league form had promised much, so much in fact that their loyal supporters, scarred after decades of soul-destroying disappointment, had even started to believe. Oh, how those same supporters must have been feeling after just 20 minutes.

Even at that early stage Limerick were already seven points behind and shades of Ennis were looming for captain and full back TJ Ryan. "We were under huge pressure, 30 yards of space in front of us which makes things very difficult for a full-back line. It was a very short pitch, the puck-outs were landing down on top of us, we were being pulled all over the place."

1-4 of Offaly’s 1-7 had been plundered by their full-forward line in those first 20 minutes, the goal from giant teenage corner-forward Joe Bergin after he grabbed a huge free by another teenager, full back Paul Cleary. Things were about to change for Offaly, for young Cleary particularly. Without wasting any more time, the new Limerick sideline team of Gary Kirby, Richie Bennis and Tony Hickey, along with Liam Lenihan, moved corner forward Donie Ryan to wing back and Mark Foley in front of the full-back as a sweeper.

Both moves worked a dream. Mark went on to give a man-of-the-match display; Donie did his impression of the roadrunner, one moment starring in defence, the next in attack, scoring the goal before half time to complete Limerick’s first-half revival.

"The first 15 minutes we struggled, too much ball going in on the full-back line," said Kirby. "We brought back Donie to settle it down a small bit, he did a job there for 10 or 15 minutes, we settled, and then the whole thing changed around."

1-12 each it was at the break, and it was Limerick’s turn with the wind at their backs. For another 10 minutes it remained deadlocked as the two sides traded points, five apiece. Ominously for Offaly, however, the Limerick forwards were starting to get into the swing of things, the inside line especially. Full-forward Brian Begley was unmarkable, the unfortunate Cleary eventually called ashore. Begley scored five super points from play, corner forward Andrew O’Shaughnessy had seven (including three difficult frees), Donie Ryan had that goal, all manner of assists. Outside them, Niall Moran was also on fire, four points from play, while Barry Foley, whether in midfield, where he started, or at corner forward, where he finished, was in deadly form, top-scoring with 1-7.

Don’t write off this Offaly team. As McIntyre said, however, on this particular evening, they just ran into a buzz-saw, none more cutting than Mark Foley. "After the Clare game, our character was questioned; that hurts. We proved tonight there’s heart left in Limerick hurling," said Foley.

"That’s not to say we’re assuming we’re in the quarter-final, but at least we have a chance now."

Scorers: Limerick: B. Foley 1-7 (0-3 frees 0-1 65); A. O’Shaughnessy 0-7 (0-3 frees); B. Begley 0-5; N. Moran 0-4; M. Foley 0-3 (frees); D. Ryan 1-0; M. O’Brien 0-2; C. Fitzgerald 0-1. Offaly: J. Bergin 2-1 (1-0 free); B. Carroll 0-7 (0-6 frees); D. Hoctor 0-3; G. Hanniffy 0-2; B. Murphy 0-2; P. Cleary (free), K. Brady (65), D. Tanner, B. Whelehan, 0-1 each.

LIMERICK: B. Murray; D. Reale, TJ Ryan (c), S. Hickey; W. Walshe, B. Geary, M. Foley; B. Foley, S. Lucey; N. Moran, D. O’Grady, C. Fitzgerald; D. Ryan, B. Begley, A. O’Shaughnessy.

Subs: P. O’Dwyer (Geary 28); M. O’Brien (Lucey 35+1); P. Tobin (Fitzgerald 48); E. Foley (Walsh inj. 70).

OFFALY: B. Mullins; B. Teehan, P. Cleary, B. O’Meara; K. Brady, R. Hanniffy, G. Oakley; D. Hoctor, B. Whelehan; D. Hayden, G. Hanniffy, D. Tanner; J. Bergin, B. Murphy (c), B. Carroll.

Subs: N. Claffey (Teehan 48); D. Murray (Tanner 50); M. Cordial (Cleary 51); J. Brady (Hayden 54).
Referee: M. Haverty (Galway).