Kildare were significantly more offensive in this ding-dong derby tussle at St Conleth’s Park on Saturday night, although quite apart from the tactical approach, what was most notable was the speed and intensity of their play compared to the way they laboured in their two Leinster Championship games.
The atmosphere generated in a provincial ground contrasted with the sterility of a half-empty Croke Park that has been a factor in much of the poor showings produced there in recent years.
O’Neill was undoubtedly relieved but the Kildare manager did note the concession of two goals, and an openness at times that would be punished by the top tier sides.
It was the character shown in the defining period by his players, who had seemed paralysed by fear in the closing stages of both the Wexford and Westmeath games, that came to the fore, as they scored five points in a row after Offaly drew level to put the game to bed.
“Once again, we continued this famed tradition of leaving (a team) back in” said O’Neill.
“They got back level at one stage when I thought we were controlling the game. Two weeks ago, the same thing happened and we… collapsed, for want of a better word. But the lads stood up and pulled together as a team, which is something that has been questioned about them. We were definitely more attack-minded in terms of our transition for the simple reason that we didn’t play two men back.
“The bottom line is, we’re not playing Dublin. And we’re not playing them in the next round either. We didn’t feel like we needed to play that way today. We conceded two goals, so you’ve got to look at the evidence. Granted, they were due to errors on our part but I still think we need to be better at striking that balance between defence and attack.”
Both sides produced some wonderful scores but Kildare always had more strings to their bow. Adam Tyrrell, Niall Kelly and Neil Flynn all scored three points in the first half with Kelly producing some outstanding finishes.
Offaly kept in touch though, helped largely by the habitual indiscipline of the Kildare defence that presented Nigel Dunne with five points from frees.
Johnny Moloney proved a real handful in general play and as well as being fouled for a couple of those frees, the Tullamore forward added a brace of his own from play and had his marker, the former All Star Peter Kelly replaced.
Tommy Moolick scored the Kildare goal after 14 minutes and they led by 1-12 to 0-10 at the break. Offaly thundered back into the fray with a Nigel Dunne goal in the 42nd minute and then a thunderous finish from the penalty spot by Peter Cunningham four minutes later after Moloney was hauled down.
Dunne brought Offaly level in the 58th minute but they wouldn’t score again as Moolick, Kevin Feely and Emmet Bolton dominated around the middle third. Kildare scored five points on the trot to seal it and Offaly had Eoin Carroll sent off late on.
M Donnellan, P Kelly, D Hyland (0-1), O Lyons, J Byrne, E Doyle, E Bolton, T Moolick (1-1), K Feely (0-1), A Tyrrell (0-4, 2 frees), M O’Flaherty, F Conway (0-2), C McNally (0-1), N Kelly (0-4), N Flynn (0-5, 2 frees).
C Fitzpatrick for P Kelly (33), E O’Flaherty (0-2 frees) for Tyrrell (48), C O’Donoghue for Lyons inj (51), F Dowling for Doyle BC (52), A Smith (0-1) for Flynn (54), K Cribbin for McNally BC (70+2).
A Mulhall, B Darby, E Rigney, S Pender, N Darby (0-2, 1 free), P Cunningham (1-1, 1-0 pen), C Donohue, E Carroll, N Smith, M Brazil, N Dunne (1-7, 0-7 frees), G Guilfoyle (0-1), A Sullivan, N McNamee (0-1), J Moloney (0-2).
C McNamee for Guilfoyle (ht), B Allen for Brazil (65), J Gethins for Donohue (67), J Lalor for Cunningham (70+4).
Padraig Hughes (Armagh).