Offaly had to withstand a late Kerry rally to defeat the Kingdom and more than likely end their interest in this year’s Joe McDonagh Cup after a gripping contest at the Austin Stack Park. The fate of the tie in Tralee ebbed and flowed until Offaly finally limped over the line by just a single point.
It was heartbreak for this Kerry side who played one of their best games against a team who had played Division One hurling this season. But for the concession of a fortunate goal in the 45th minute, it could have been a different story.
In what was a must-win game for both sides, the opening half developed into a ding-dong affair with the standard of hurling really impressive. Offaly, thanks to an Eoghan Cahill free and a Jason Sampson point, raced 0-02 to no score in front inside three minutes but Fionnan MacKessy collected from Podge Boyle to open Kerry’s account.
Cahill and Kerry wing back Eoin Ross swapped scores before Offaly struck for their opening goal in the seventh minute when David Nally set up Killian Sampson for a superb goal. When Brian Duignan added a point Kerry appeared to be hanging on to Offaly’s coat tails – however, Boyle was unerring from frees and from play and scored the next four points as Kerry closed the gap to 1-06 to 0-06 after 15 minutes.
Kerry then were given an ideal opportunity to level things when Colum Harty and MacKessy sent Fionan O’Sullivan through. When he was fouled Kerry were awarded a penalty but Shane Conway saw his effort brilliantly saved by Stephen Corcoran. Boyle converted the resulting ’65 and another free to close the gap to two. However, Offaly struck for their second goal in the 20th minute when Killian Sampson set up David Nally who shot low to the corner.
Boyle then scored a superb point after a good run from Eoin Ross but three unanswered points from Cahill saw Offaly move 2-10 to 0-10,
Kerry now had the bit between the teeth with Eric Leen, Colin Walsh and Flor McCarthy playing well at the back and points from Boyle, Harty and a superb effort from Colin Walsh helped close the gap to just two points. Offaly tacked on two more points before half time from John Murphy and Eoghan Cahill before Boyle scored his 10th point of the opening half to leave Offaly 2-12 to 0-15 in front.
It was pulsating stuff and Kerry didn't let it drop, making an explosive start to the second half when two points from substitute Jordan Conway closed the gap to one before Cahill edged Offaly two in front again.
Kerry were soon on level terms thanks to two more Boyle frees and then, for the first time, moved in front when Shane Conway exploded into action scoring two points from play.
However their joy was short lived as Offaly struck for a fortuitous goal when a ball from Paddy Clancy came back off the post and Sampson struck for his second goal of the game. Three rapid points from Ciaran Burke, Liam Langton and a Cahill free saw Offaly move four points clear by the 50th minute and they had grabbed the initiative at a vital stage.
Offaly dominated the next ten minutes with a series of points from Cahill and substitutes Liam Langton and Paddy Clancy and when John Murphy scored the goal in the 55th minute, Offaly looked home and hosed, had scoring 2-06 without reply in a ten minute spell.
However, Kerry rallied with the introduction of Maurice O’Connor and with Shane Conway springing to life. O’ Connor struck for two Kerry goals to reduce the deficit to just three points with six minutes remaining (4-21 to 2-23). Kerry continued to score at will with Conway and Boyle with a couple of frees keeping Kerry in touch but three points from the stick of David Nally saw Offaly limp over the line by a single point in an absolutely cracking Joe McDonagh contest.
In the day's other game, Carlow kept their hopes of making the final alive as they saw off the challenge of Down, running out 2-25 to 1-19 winners at Dr. Cullen Park. Both of Saturday's victors will meet next week in the final match of this group stage.
P Boyle (0-15; 11f, 2 ’65), M O’Connor (2-0), S Conway (0-04; 1SL), J Conway (0-03), F MacKessy, C Walsh (0-02 each), E Ross, C Harty (0-01 each)
E Cahill (0-10; 7f), K Sampson (2-0), D Nally (1-03), J Murphy (1-01), L Langton and J Sampson (0-02 each), C Burke, B Conneely, B Duignan, L O’ Connor and P Clancy (0-01 each)
L Dee; S Weir, F McCarthy, E Leen; E Ross, M Boyle, F Mackessy; P O’Connor, M Leane, C Walsh; P Boyle, Fionan O’Sullivan, N Mulcahy ; C Harty , S Conway.
J Conway for F O’ Sullivan (HT), C O’ Keeffe for F McCarthy (inj) (HT), M O’ Connor for C Harty (44), B Lonergan for for N Mulcahy (68)
S Corcoran; J Screeney, C Burke, D King; E Parlon, B Conneely, R Ravanhill; A Cleary, J Sampson; B Duignan, E Cahill, K Sampson; D Nally, J Murphy, L O’Connor.
P Delaney for R Ravenhill (inj), 11, P Clancy (0-1) for A Cleary, half-time, P Cantwell for E Parlon (inj), 42, L Langton (0-2) for L O’Connor, 44, S Dooley for E Cahill, 65
R McGinn ( Clare )