Offaly stumble past weakened Louth in opening round

THE search for Sam Maguire got underway yesterday in Navan, with Offaly recording their first Leinster Championship win in three seasons against an injury-plagued Louth side at Páirc Tailteann.

As a championship opener it didn't exactly make you over-excited at the thought of the hundred or so games in football and hurling to follow in the months ahead. Louth, mindful of their limitations, came to stifle the game and while Offaly racked up a respectable enough total of 1-15, it was painful at times to watch them go about their business.

They posted 17 wides, 12 of them in a first-half wind that they never truly came to terms with. Manager Kevin Kilmurray waved away their failings afterwards however he claimed the win was everything for Offaly after the trials and tribulations of seasons past.

"With respect to the Offaly players, they've gone through a rough time of it recently, particularly last year, and I honestly credit them with the amount of work they've put in. That breeze, you can feel it down here, it was almost impossible to get a shot on target today," Kilmurray countered.

"I thought we were always the better team, we always played the better football."

Louth's shortcomings were evident from the first minute. In trying to keep it tight they found themselves time and again bereft of ideas, options and bodies anywhere beyond their own 45, not that they got to do much exploring beyond it.

Offaly, as Kilmurray was right to point out, always held the whip hand, yet inexplicably they could only find themselves all square at 0-3 apiece eight minutes before the break.

That all changed with John Reynolds's goal four minutes later, the Clara man diving onto Alan McNamee's pass to fist the ball beyond the reach of goalkeeper Shane McCoy and into the net.

With the Offaly supporters in the 4,500 crowd beginning to voice their displeasure at their side's laboured attempts up to that, the goal came at the perfect time for Kilmurray's side. Not that the Offaly manager agreed.

"That's all speculation and in the past now as far as I'm concerned. I've the job done and I'm happy enough with the players. I came down today to win and I didn't care if that was by one point or ten points."

With three more points tacked on before the interval, Offaly suddenly had the daylight they deserved between themselves and Louth.

"We tried to keep it tight, keep it sweet at the start, try and go in at six-four, seven-five, something like that, but it didn't happen," Louth manager Val Andrews lamented.

"We lost a bit of shape after the goal before half-time and it wasn't in the plan that they would be six points ahead at half-time."

At 1-6 to 0-3, hope wasn't completely extinguished for Louth, who had the advantage of the breeze more or less at their backs on the restart. On 39 minutes Darren Clarke, their best player on the day, should have kick-started a recovery, but his shot when clean through on goal finished below rather than above Padraic Kelly's bar.

Offaly took heed of the warning. Alan McNamee had been their pivotal player in the first half, but Ciaran McManus began to exert his influence more after a quiet first 30 minutes. Louth needed to match the higher gears Offaly were beginning to find, but they never really looked like a team who believed they could rescue the situation, going 20 minutes of the second period without a single point.

Midway through the half, the game was effectively over and the chief reason was Offaly full-forward Niall McNamee's display in front of the posts. The Rhode man kicked five points from play, while James Coughlan got three of his own. Coughlan's last after 63 minutes left it 1-12 to 0-5 and it was only then that Louth decided to throw everything they had at Offaly.

Clarke started it, his free-kick flying past a gaggle of Offaly defenders and smacking off the crossbar into the arms of Paddy Keenan who smashed it home past a static rearguard.

Offaly tacked on two more points in reply before John Kermath of Louth shot inches past Offaly's left-hand post, but a goal would have been no more than window dressing.

Offaly's Cathal Daly was shown a second yellow card in injury time but by then Offaly's minds were already drifting to May 29 when they will renew acquaintances with neighbours Laois in Croke Park. Offaly feel they owe their arch-rivals one too after Laois had a late escape against them in the drawn game in Portlaoise 2003 thanks to a dodgy Mick Lawlor goal.

Ciaran McManus spoke of it after yesterday's game, pointing out how both teams' fortunes have taken widely different forks on the road since then. Their next meeting won't lack bite if Kevin Kilmurray's words are anything to go by.

"All year long, I've been hearing of Micko using descriptive adjectives to describe his second team so I presume he'll probably put his first team out against us. We'll take it as it comes. It's just another game for us. Down the years, we've always enjoyed playing our neighbours and I'm sure this will be no different."

Scorers for Offaly: N McNamee (0-5), J Reynolds (1-0), C Quinn (0-3, 2f), C McManus (0-3, 2f), J Coughlan (0-3), D Hunt (0-1).

Scorers for Louth: D Clarke (0-4), P Keenan (1-0), D Devenny, JP Rooney, (both 0-1).

OFFALY: P Kelly; C Daly, C Evans, S Brady; B Mooney, S Sullivan, K Slattery; C McManus, A McNamee; J Reynolds, D Hunt, N Coughlan; C Quinn, N McNamee, J Coughlan.

SUBS: M Daly for Reynolds 56, J Kenny for J Coughlan 68.

LOUTH: S McCoy; A Page, D Mackin, J Carr; C Sheridan, A Hoey, S Gerard; D Devenny, J Kermath; P Keenan, N McDonnell, R Carroll; M Stanfield, JP Rooney, D Clarke.

SUBS: T O'Brien for Devenny 51, B Reilly for Carr 54, P Matthews for McDonnell 56.

REFEREE: M Hughes (Tyrone).

More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Sport Push Notifications

By clicking on 'Sign Up' you will be the first to know about our latest and best sporting content on this browser.

Sign Up

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd