DUBLIN 2-24 OFFALY 0-13: On the darkest of days for Offaly hurling, not even Our Lady of Consolation church next to Parnell Park could offer any sort of silver lining.
Four straight weekends of Leinster championship action and four dispiriting defeats consigned Kevin Martin and his, ironically, improving team to relegation.
Martin mused afterwards that maybe the powers-that-be will reconsider the merits of sending them down to the Joe McDonagh Cup for 2019.
But an 11th-hour reprieve seems unlikely and a season that began with such promise after an Allianz League win over Dublin at Croke Park ended on the lowest possible note.
Things are naturally brighter for Dublin who are guaranteed MacCarthy Cup hurling in 2019 after goals from Paul Ryan and Fergal Whitely propelled them to a facile 17-point win.
They pulled clear after a poor first 30 minutes or so to win at their ease though even Dublin manager Pat Gilroy was keen to shed light on Offaly’s difficult situation.
“It’s rough on them to be relegated,” said Gilroy. “Certainly in their first two Championship matches they gave everything and those games could have gone either way. To see them relegated out of it now, it’s difficult, because they’re well able to compete at this level, in my view.
“I think, like ourselves, Offaly have progressed this year. Now to drop them down a level, I don’t think it’s going to bring on hurling for them. It’s very harsh.
“To be fair to Offaly, to get four games in a row, they weren’t going to be that fresh and once things started to turn in the game, you could see they were flagging.
“I think the round robin thing generally is brilliant but certainly these things can be changed and I’d be all in favour of somebody coming up (from the McDonagh Cup) and trying to make the Championship bigger and bigger, if you can. I just don’t see how it’s going to help Offaly in any way to be relegated.”
Gilroy was left a little frustrated regarding his own team’s situation too. He felt they were only hitting top gear in the season just as it ended having worked hard on fitness and a new style throughout spring in preparation for the summer.
There’s still a final round game in Galway next weekend to play but that’s effectively a dead rubber with nothing at stake for either team.
“It feels like, to a large extent, we’ve been motoring well since the middle of April,” said the former All-Ireland winning football manager. “You’re starting to pick up a bit of momentum and now it’s over. But look, that was in our own hands. We were ahead on 71 minutes in two of the games and then we lost them both, so we have to learn from that and push on for next year.”
Dublin let Kilkenny and Wexford off the hook in previous rounds and Gilroy acknowledged that’s what ultimately cost them progression to the knockout stages.
“We have to learn how to finish games and close them out,” he said.
Dublin drilled 18 wides overall, and 13 in the first half, which kept Offaly in the game until the half-hour mark.
There was just two between them then but the hosts finished the half with an unanswered 1-3 to lead 1-10 to 0-5 at the break.
Ryan snatched the goal and Whitely their second after the restart, both coming from long Chris Crummey deliveries.
Captain Crummey was terrific and weighed in with 0-4 from play, the same as fellow wing-back Shane Barrett.
Conal Keaney, back from a shoulder injury, had a strong game too and scored 0-2 while goalkeeper Alan Nolan kept a clean sheet and pulled off a great save from a second-half penalty.
Joe Bergin was the Offaly player who struck it and, in total, the experienced Offaly forward pucked away 1-3 from placed balls on the day.
Bergin was only taking them because Shane Dooley was rested after three games in a row.
“We thought if we were there or thereabouts with Dublin with 25 minutes to go, you could bring him (Dooley) on and give the the thing a boost but it just didn’t work out,” said Offaly manager Kevin Martin. “Today was just a disaster.”
It was hard to disagree and while Martin is committed for another season, there are question marks over senior players including Dooley as they face up to life in the McDonagh Cup.
Martin said the reality for his team is that they weren’t up to play four weekends in a row, and shouldn’t have been forced to.
“Mentally they’re fatigued, physically they’re fatigued,” he said. “We’re just not cut out for four weeks in a row. If you get two games out of them, break for a week or two and then another two games, it’s possible then. We’re definitely not as bad as that.”
Scorers for Dublin:
P. Ryan (1-5, 4 frees); F. Whitely (1-1); S. Barrett and C. Crummey (0-4 each); C. Keaney, L. Rushe, J. Malone and C. Boland (0-2 each); R. McBride and F. MacGib (0-1 each).
Scorers for Offaly:
J. Bergin (0-4, 4 frees); D. Currams, P. Murphy and S. Dooley (0-2f) (0-2 each) E. Cahill (1f), K. Dunne and J. Gorman (0-1 each).
A. Nolan; P. Smyth, C. O’Callaghan, E. O’Donnell; C. Crummey (C), S. Moran, S. Barrett; R. McBride, J. Malone; F. MacGib, C. Keaney, D. Sutcliffe; F. Whitely, L. Rushe, P. Ryan.
C. Boland for Whitely (51); T. Connolly for McBride (55); D. Treacy for Keaney (57); J. McCaffrey for MacGib (63); P. Winters for Rushe (64).
E. Cahill; D. O’Toole Greene, B. Conneely, T. Spain; D. Shortt, P. Camon, D. King (C); D. Currams, D Egan; S Kinsella, C Egan, T Geraghty; S. Ryan, C. Mahon, J. Bergin.
S. Dooley for Ryan (42); K. Dunne for Kinsella (48), R. Hughes for C. Egan (48), P. Murphy for D. Egan (48); J. Gorman for Bergin (55).
C. Lyons (Cork).
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