Boss Dooley content as Offaly get early boost

“SO that’s the end of Kilkenny?”

That was the tongue-in-cheek suggestion put to Offaly manager Joe Dooley after this first-round Walsh Cup game in Tullamore yesterday.

“Ah yes, and that’s the end of the five in-a-row as well!” was Joe’s tongue-in-cheek response, before getting real – “I don’t think so now lads!”

Nevertheless, and even though it came against a vastly under-strength Kilkenny (only two starters from last September’s All-Ireland final win, John Tennyson – captain for the day – and Richie Hogan, Aidan Fogarty making a brief appearance at the finish) this was certainly a boost for Offaly, their first competitive win over the Cats since the surprise All-Ireland final win of 1998, a game in which Joe himself featured.

“Someone said that, and I suppose if Kilkenny had a full team today it might have been a different story. But, at the same time, psychologically it’s nice to get the win. Any day you beat Kilkenny, or Tipp, or Cork, or any of the top teams, especially for teams like Offaly trying to get up the ladder, is a good day. We’re delighted with the win – missing an awful lot of lads, as were Kilkenny, but still it’s a great start to the year, keeps d’oul thing going. It’s given us another good game now next week, against Galway.”

In a year in which they will be attempting to create GAA history, the first team in either hurling or football to complete five-in-a-row of All-Ireland senior titles, this was Kilkenny’s first competitive outing of the 2010 season. As they had also won this competition last year (along with the NHL), and in fact had used the final to lay down an early marker for Galway, whom they knew they’d be meeting later in the westerners’ first season in Leinster, this was also their first opportunity to begin the defence of that hat-trick of titles.

That they lost, then, albeit only after a strong surge from Offaly in the final 10 minutes of what was a fine contest, didn’t please manager Brian Cody, but neither did it faze him unduly. “Good competitive game, happy enough with the way it went for most of the game but they came strongly at the end, that was it,” he commented afterwards.

“We’re looking at lads, trying to bulk up the panel, see how they go in a competitive game.”

Some of those new guys, most notably PJ Delaney at the heart of the defence, bustling Niall Walsh when introduced to midfield, all-action John Mulhall at wing-forward, and goal-scoring hero Martin Boran in the corner, all impressed (young Martin Walsh, brother to a certain Tommy, wasn’t on long enough to register), though their manager wasn’t about to reveal his own impressions.

“I don’t like to name individuals, but certainly I learned a few things for the future. We put ourselves into the position where we could have won the game, but we didn’t, obviously, and you’d always be disappointed in that situation. But I was happy enough with the attitude of the players, a lot of lads gaining valuable experience.

“We have only four or five training sessions done since we came back from holidays, but we’re down to it seriously now.”

Kilkenny led at the break, 0-10 to 1-6, Offaly’s powerful full-forward Ger Healion taking full advantage of one of the new experimental rules whereby the ‘square ball’ rule doesn’t apply in open play, to force home a high Daniel Currams centre in the last action of the half.

In the second half, the game seemed to be heading Kilkenny’s way as they led 1-13 to 1-11 at the three-quarter stage, but Offaly put in a powerful finish, with centre-back Joe Bergin bombing over three long-rangers and towering Kevin Brady also prominent.

Disappointment, then, for Kilkenny, mild as it was, but encouraging signs for Joe Dooley’s Offaly side.

Scorers for Offaly: D. Currams 0-4 (all frees); C. Parlon 0-3; G. Healion 1-0; J. Bergin 0-3 (0-1 free, 0-1 65); S. Kelly 0-2; R. Hanniffy 0-2; G. Oakley, K. Brady, 0-1 each.

Kilkenny: M. Boran 1-1; R. Hogan 0-4 (0-2 frees); J. Mulhall 0-3; M. Grace 0-2; M. Bergin, E. McGrath, PJ Delaney (free), 0-1 each.

OFFALY: J. Dempsey; S. Egan, E. Murphy, S. Wynne; J. Rigney, J. Bergin, D. Morkan; G. Oakley (c), J. Keane; R. Hanniffy, J. Brady, S. Kelly; C. Parlon, G. Healion, D. Currams.

Subs: K. Brady (Keane 55); F. Daly (Kelly 62); P. Cleary (J. Brady 65).

KILKENNY: D. Herrity; K. Joyce, C. Hickey, D. Fogarty; J. Dalton, PJ Delaney, D. Prendergast; J. Tennyson (c), L. Ryan; M. Grace, E. McGrath, J. Mulhall; M. Boran, R. Hogan, M. Bergin.

Subs: M. Ruth (Bergin 35); N. Walsh (Tennyson 44); M. Walsh (Dalton 57); A. Fogarty (Grace 69).

Referee: J. McGrath (Westmeath).

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