What was arguably Kerry’s best performance of the year from general play didn’t quite get them through to a league final at Offaly’s expense this afternoon, as they were undone by some dreadful shooting, particularly in the first half, at Glenisk O’Connor Park in Tullamore.
They hit 18 wides in total - 12 during their wind-assisted first half - to let Offaly into a game where for the entirety of the first 35 minutes, they were second best by a distance.
However it was a different contest after the break as the home side showed a lot more intelligence and craft in their distribution, while defensively, they locked down the Kerry attack, restricting them to just 0-4 (three frees) up until stoppage time, by which time Offaly’s passage to next weekend’s league final was assured.
Offaly, who scored just 0-2 from play in the first half, were much more threatening up front, in no small part due to the huge influence of centre forward Charlie Mitchell. The University of Galway student has become a key man for manager Johnny Kelly in his first year at senior level, and here he chipped in with two points but also set up a host of scores, by winning frees and also with his clever use of the sliotar.
Kerry had luck on their side in that a fresh breeze blew at their backs in the first half and a heavy shower of rain just before the break killed the strength of the wind considerably, but they also played by far the more controlled and thoughtful hurling in the opening 35 minutes.
Jordan Conway was outstanding at midfield while Eoin Ross and Daniel Collins came from deep with several powerful runs, and they created some outstanding chances, only to be let down by their shooting.
The home side, in contrast, pucked away a world of possession with blind clearances, allowing the Kerry half-back line, aided by Mikey Boyle in a sweeping role, to hoover up a world of ball.
An 0-13 to 0-10 half-time lead might still have been enough now that the flags hung down by their poles, but a change in tactical approach, as well as a couple of upgrades from the bench, soon helped but Offaly were on the front foot.
Kerry’s last lead of the game was with 15 minutes gone in the second half when a free from Boyle made it 0-15 to 0-14 in their favour. The next five points of the game all went Offaly’s way, including some gorgeous strikes from Mitchell, Adrian Cleary, Paddy Clancy and Jason Sampson.
There was a brief burst of resistance from Kerry when Boyle pointed a free and Brandon Barrett split the uprights with his first touch after coming onto the pitch, but Offaly came again with another four in a row, and perhaps more importantly, they kept their goal intact, with Kerry’s only half goal chance (a shot on the turn from Boyle that was well saved by Stephen Corcoran) arriving so deep into stoppage time that even had the Ballyduff man found the target, it would have been nothing more than a cosmetic measure.
E Cahill 0-13 (11f, 1 65), D Nally 0-3 (1 sideline), C Mitchell 0-2, D Maher 0-1, A Cleary 0-1, J Sampson 0-1, P Clancy 0-1, L Langton 0-1.
P Boyle 0-8 (7f), S Conway 0-4 (4f), J Conway 0-2, D Collins 0-2, E Ross 0-1, K O’Connor 0-1, B Barrett 0-1.
S Corcoran; B Conneely, C Burke, C Hardiman; D Maher, J Sampson, K Sampson; P Delaney, J Clancy; E Cahill, C Mitchell, A Cleary; D Nally, Shane Dooley, Cillian Kiely.
D King for Hardiman (half-time), P Clancy for Dooley (48), J Keenaghan for Delaney (64), L Langton for J Clancy (68).
JB O'Halloran; J Diggins, E Murphy, S Weir; E Ross, F Mackessy, K O'Connor; D Griffin, D Collins; S Conway, J Conway, M Boyle; D Goggin, M Leane, P Boyle.
E Leen for M Boyle (23), G Dooley for Goggin (half-time), K Carmody for Weir (46), B Barrett for Griffin (61), C Trant for Ross (70).
T Gleeson (Dublin).