Offaly almost pay massive penalty for lack of focus

Anyone who went to Offaly’s clash with Wexford in Tullamore on Saturday to see good hurling, good individual displays or good team play would have been sorely let down.

This was a very poor affair, with bad shooting and decision-making from both sides a feature of the game.

When Offaly went nine points up they should have driven on. They didn’t. Instead they fell asleep, lost concentration and started doing stupid things with the ball. They lost their discipline as well, giving away silly frees then arguing with the referee and conceding even more ground.

That lack of focus was the biggest reason for Wexford’s comeback in the final quarter.

The biggest problem that Offaly have is their over-reliance on Shane Dooley. The day he is held is the day this Offaly team will be in deep trouble. What was Joe Bergin doing? There is no doubt about his talent but he needs to up his work rate and contribute a lot more on the scoreboard.

Wing-forward Colin Egan doesn’t lack in the hard grafting department. But if he could dispatch hard won possession and score, or even lay it off intelligently, he’d have been man-of-the-match. Plus, his striking will have to improve.

In defence, David Franks was the best of a very good full-back line with David Kenny and Derek Morkan also doing well. Rory Hanniffy impressed at centre-back, as did Kevin Brady alongside him.

Overall I was disappointed with Offaly. You look at the quality of the players they have, the likes of Dooley, Joe Bergin, Brian Carroll, Brendan Murphy, Rory Hanniffy — they have better players than Wexford and should have won this game far more easily.

What most surprised me about them was the way they seemed to panic on the ball, a trait which you wouldn’t expect from an Offaly hurler.

It’s a good sign for them though that in spite of all those faults they still won. It is good news too for Ollie Baker who has so many areas where he can get a lot more improvement from his players. The main thing for them is that they have beaten Wexford in the Leinster championship for the first time in over a decade, and they won’t fear Galway.

Wexford made a mistake in not starting Darren Stamp. Going with youth is fine but young Willie Devereux was a little overawed on Shane Dooley, and was caught for the goal. Liam Dunne has to learn from that. A positive for Wexford — when they saw a chance to come back at Offaly they grabbed it, and nearly won.

Two big memories from the game, the magnificent block by Keith Rossiter on Brendan Murphy in the first half, then the miss by Gizzie Lyng when he had a chance of a goal.

A few more matches under his belt though and Gizzie will be back to his best.

A Wexford puzzle — why didn’t they feed more fast ball to their two corner-forwards, Rory Jacob and Paul Morris, both of whom looked dangerous? I think too Wexford have a real star in the making in full-forward Jack Guiney; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ball hit harder than his 20m free that slapped off the crossbar in the first half and rebounded almost to midfield! He’s young but he’s big, strong and brave, and well able to hurl. I was surprised though they didn’t bring him further out the field where he would have been on the ball a bit more.

Liam Dunne and his selectors have a big job ahead; they have a lot of new players and that proved their undoing on Saturday.

The meeting of Dublin and Laois was a non-event, no more than we expected; the one thing about Dublin, they didn’t let up, which reminds us of who in Leinster?

And finally, what can you say about the clash of Galway and Westmeath yesterday?

Westmeath were always going to lose this game but they scored 4-12, outplayed Galway in the second half.

They also finished with three minors on the field — how often do you see that at this level? Fair play to Westmeath and to manager Brian Hanley; they’ve beaten Antrim, now did well against Galway. The challenge now for them is to stick at it and to keep improving.

Galway though — without Joe Canning scored 5-19.

So what will they score with him?

Tougher opposition the next day, but without question we now have the four best teams in Leinster in the semis, and two good games to look forward to.

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