It was an historic day in Austin Stack Park as Kerry condemned four times Liam McCarthy Cup winners Offaly to Christy Ring Cup hurling in 2020 when they won this Joe McDonagh dogfight and maintained their second-tier status for another year.
But it was too close for comfort against an Offaly side that appeared low in confidence following three losses and they had to play for all but seven minutes of the contest with just fourteen players.
So elation for Fintan O’Connor and Kerry superbly led by captain Shane Conway who had a game-high 0-11 from frees and set up Kerry’s crucial goal for Podge Boyle.
Offaly were dejected and crestfallen at the final whistle and, to Kerry’s credit, they did not celebrate their historic triumph until they reached the dressing room under the instructions of manager O’Connor.
Offaly hurling is at a crossroads as the Faithful were relegated from the Liam McCarthy, dropped to Division 2 A in the league and now find themselves in the Christy Ring Cup all in the space of 12 months.
The second half saw Offaly resume a more determined side and threatened to do the improbable with 14 men when a Sean Cleary point was followed by a Shane Dooley goal after a defensive error by Kerry at the back that gifted the Offaly sharpshooter a vital score. But at the other end, Eoghan Cahill made terrific double save from Jordan Conway and Podge Boyle to deny Kerry a goal.
Conway was unerring from frees as Offaly’s defence were guilty of indiscipline but points from Eoghan Cahill (free) and the excellent Sean Cleary saw the gap reduced to the minimum 1-10 to 1-19 by the 45th minute.
Kerry then took over with Mikey Boyle a colossus at centre back while Shane and Jordan Conway added points along with Colm Harty with the captain adding five more frees for fouls on him. Four Shane Dooley frees late made for a nervous finish but Kerry should really have put Offaly away with more to spare but they were wayward in their shooting.
Offaly made the better start to this crucial clash and looked like blowing Kerry out of the water as the home side appeared very nervous. Offaly opened their account with a long range free from goalkeeper Eoghan Cahill and Shane Dooley added another free within a minute. Two more points from play by Cillian Kiely and Kevin Connolly saw Offaly race 0-4 to 0-0 by the fifth minute.
Then disaster in the seventh minute for Offaly when wing forward Peter Geraghty was shown a straight red for an off the ball incident with Kerry corner back James O’Connor.
Shane Dooley then missed the first of many scorable Offaly chances as Shane Conway opened Kerry’s account in the 9th minute from a free. John Buckley was playing well as was the Kerry defence backboned by Bryan Murphy and Mikey Boyle.
Then Offaly was awarded a penalty for a foul Kevin Connolly but John Brendan O’Halloran saved Shane Dooley’s effort.
Kerry now began to find their feet with the extra men and Shane Conway with two frees and points from Paddy Kelly, Jack Goulding had the sides tied at 0-6 apiece.
Kerry were now winning the ruck ball and two more Conway frees had had Kerry 0-7 to 0-5 in front by the 30th minute as Kerry shot three wides on the trot. Then on the stroke of half time Kerry struck for a crucial goal when Shane Conway found Podge Boyle with a sublime pass and Boyle buried the ball in the Offaly net to see Kerry retire 1-7 to 0-6 at the interval.
But the comeback was never on as Kerry held out for a famous win.
S Conway (0-11, all frees), P Boyle (1-1), C Harty and J Conway (0-2 each), P Kelly and J Goulding (0-1 each)
S Dooley (1-6, 6 frees), S Cleary (0-4), E Cahill (0-2 frees), C Kiely, K Connelly, J Bergin and J Gorman 0-1 each
JB O’Halloran; S Weir, B Murphy, J O’Connor; D Goggin , M Boyle, D Collins; J Buckley , T O’Connor; M O’Leary, S Conway , P Kelly; P Boyle, J Conway, J Goulding .
C Harty for D Goggin (h/t), M Slattery for J Goulding (70)
E Cahill; N Houlihan, B Conneally, M Egan; D Egan, C Kiely, E Parlon; S Kinsella, C Gath; S Cleary, D Gath, P Geraghty; K Connolly, O Kelly, S Dooley
J Bergin for D Gath (24), D Nally for C Gath (h/t), T Spain for D Egan (39), J Gorman for S Kinsella (43), S Dolan for K Connolly (57)
C Lyons (Cork)