It was an historic day in Austin Stack Park on Saturday as Kerry condemned four-time Liam McCarthy Cup winners Offaly to Christy Ring Cup hurling in 2020 when they won this dogfight to maintain their own Joe McDonagh status.
It was a day of elation for Fintan O’Connor and Kerry, superbly led by captain Shane Conway, who scored a game-high 0-11 from frees and set up Kerry’s crucial goal for Podge Boyle on the stroke of half time to give Kerry a 1-7 to 0-6 lead.
Shane Dooley had a penalty saved in the 11th minute by Kerry custodian John B O’Halloran, but the greater calamity came four minutes earlier when wing-forward Peter Geraghty was shown a straight red for an off-the-ball incident with Kerry corner-back James O’Connor.
Offaly boss Joachim Kelly was dejected, and expressed his displeasure with Cork referee Colm Lyon: “I’m an Offaly man and I’m gutted — I’m gutted like the 26 players in there. We came down here to try and get a win and it’s not easy to get a win in a Munster venue, and play a Munster team and against a Munster referee.”
Offaly hurling is now rock bottom. To add to this defeat, in the last months they have been relegated from the Liam McCarthy, dropped to Division 2A in the league, and now find themselves in the Christy Ring Cup.
“I’m gutted for Offaly hurling that we’re gone down into the third tier. Offaly needs to start again now at the bottom, but we are where we are. Maybe we’re not good enough and we maybe think we are.
“There’s always hurling in Offaly, they’re not going to fold up now just because of today’s defeat. Maybe it’s the best place to start, the Christy Ring Cup, and get better and better and back up again to the Joe McDonagh.
I came in here for a month and it didn’t work out, just like it didn’t work out for Kevin Martin or Brian Whelahan before. I’m not worried about my reputation, I’m 63 years of age, and I’ve done my bit on and off the pitch.
The second half saw Offaly resume a more determined side and threaten 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 gifted the Offaly sharpshooter a vital score.
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 centre-back Mikey Boyle a colossus. Shane and Jordan Conway added points, with Colm Harty adding five more frees for fouls on him. Four Shane Dooley frees made for a nervous finish, but Kerry should really have put Offaly away more easily.
But the win meant a lot to Kerry, as coach Fintan O’Connor explained: “It means an awful lot to us because of the importance of the match, the importance of getting lads back training during the winter and what we have been trying to do for the last two or three years in trying to improve our hurling and trying to compete at best level we can.
“It would have been a huge setback for the group and for everything they stand for. If you get relegated it’s looked on as a failure and that is not being harsh on anyone, that is just the way it is.”
O’Connor and Kerry were never going to celebrate Offaly’s misfortune: “As I said to the Offaly lads in the dressing room afterwards, there was nobody celebrating after the game.
“The atmosphere was dead — very flat and sombre.”
Scorers for Kerry:
S Conway (0-11, 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).