Galway 5-18 Offaly 2-15
So the new hurling championship is underway and strangely for a game that ended with a 12-point margin, there was something for everyone and nobody left O’Connor Park too downhearted on Saturday night.
Galway’s forwards always looked dangerous and with Kevin Martin intent on pursuing a proactive approach, they made hay as Offaly tired in the final quarter.
In truth, they should have had more goals earlier on and would have but for the magnificence of Offaly netminder Eoghan Cahill, who saved a penalty from a very quiet Joe Canning and then denied the Portumna man with two full-length saves in the second half. He also kept Conor Whelan at bay.
Yet Offaly showed so much more than they had in the championship for some time. It was evident they were looking for an option when in possession, rather than going for the aimless long delivery all the time and put some lovely passages of play together.
Shane Dooley’s cracking 11th-minute goal, 45 seconds after Canning’s tame penalty, at a nice height and easier side for Cahill, was a case in point, as Oisin Kelly raced through the middle and found his team-mate with a perfectly-judged hand pass. James Skehill had no chance of stopping the rocket.
Debutant Brian Concannon had netted after just four minutes for Galway so that score was important and it was tit-for-tat for most of the remainder of the first half.
Galway found scores from play easier, with Joseph Cooney in particular profiting, while Dooley kept Offaly in it from placed balls.
Offaly hit nine wides however and when Cooney drilled a shot to the net in the 35th minute, it helped establish a 2-9 to 1-7 gap at the break.
Whelan set up Concannon for his second goal but Joe Bergin replied in kind soon after to keep the home fans interested.
But the spaces began to open up in the Offaly defence entering the final quarter, despite the efforts of the outstanding Ben Conneely in particular, and with Jason Flynn, Niall Burke, Jonathan Glynn, and Sean Loftus all anxious to make an impact off the bench, they hit Offaly with late goals from Whelan and Flynn.
Galway manager Micheál Donoghue was satisfied to open the campaign with a victory and not unreasonably, expected his charges to improve for the outing.
“We worked hard to get up to a level on the training ground and probably we didn’t play... just our own internal games, we probably needed that competitive game just to get us up another notch. So hopefully that will stand to us well now for two weeks time,” said O’Donoghue.
He was particularly pleased with five goals, given Galway won the All-Ireland scoring only two throughout the championship. While acknowledging it was something they wanted to fix, Donoghue betrayed a slight irritation that such a glaring statistic had been noted so frequently.
“It was something that we were conscious of last year. It wasn’t that we weren’t creating the goal chances, I suppose it is a work-on. Ye boys (in the media) keep highlighting it as well for us. With the forwards that we have they are very capable of creating goal chances and today we were just lucky that the boys took them.”
His counterpart Kevin Martin was matter-of-fact about proceedings. His players’ first-half efforts were excellent but Martin is aiming for higher ground. And nights like this are part of the process.
“I thought we had a very good first half even though we went in at 1-9 to 2-7 down,” said Martin.
“We missed four or five easy enough chances that that you just can’t afford to miss against Galway. In the second half they seemed to find a lot more space in our back line. They exploited it and got a few goals. We’re disappointed but it’s only one game. It’s a learning curve for us too. A lot of these guys are young plus a few debutants there as well. We get back in on Tuesday, regroup and head to Kilkenny with a positive attitude hopefully.”
A positive attitude is exactly what he wants Offaly hurling to be about again. He agreed that some might consider him naive not to play with a sweeper against the best forward division in the country — Offaly played two last year — but that goes against the grain.
“We’re trying to promote attacking hurling if we can. People might say he could have had a sweeper back in front there for a while and maybe cut out the Galway forwards cutting through but what’s the point in sitting back and letting them come at you either? I want positive hurling and I want lads to play positively, push forward with the ball when they can and get back when they have to get back because they have to enjoy the game as well.
“You don’t enjoy the game if you’re sitting back just waiting... go out and have a cut anyway.”
The league suggested they were making significant progress and this was further evidence. Yet Galway were too strong and with more to come, they are sure to be contending at the business end once more.
Scorers for Galway: J Canning (0-8, 6fs, 1 65); J Cooney (1-4); B Concannon (2-1); C Whelan (1-1); J Flynn (1-0); C Cooney (0-2); S Loftus, C Mannion (0-1 each).
Scorers for Offlay: S Dooley (1-9, 8fs); J Bergin (1-1); D King (0-2); S Kinsella, D Currams, E Cahill(f) (0-1 each).
GALWAY: J Skehill, A Tuohey, Daithí Burke, J Hanbury, P Mannion, G McInerney, A Harte, J Coen, David Burke, J Canning, C Mannion, J Cooney, C Whelan, C Cooney, B Concannon.
Subs: S Loftus for Coen (59), J Flynn for C Cooney (59), N Burke for C Mannion (63), R Burke for Harte (65), J Glynn for Canning (67)
OFFALY: E Cahill, T Spain, S Gardiner, B Conneely, D Egan, P Camon, B Murphy, D King, Shane Kinsella; C Mahon, C Egan, O Kelly, J Bergin, S Dooley.
Subs: C Kiely for Mahon (52), S Ryan for Murphy (59), P Murphy for Egan (62), T Geraghty for Currams (62), P Rigney for Spain (68)
Referee: J Murphy (Limerick).
Joseph Cooney’s goal just before half time. Given how Offaly had put it up to Galway after Shane Dooley’s goal but shot nine wides, to go in at half time with a five-point deficit was hard to stomach.
The height Conor Whelan soared to catch the sliotar before setting up a goal for Brian Concannon in the second half. It was spectacular.
Brian Concannon got the nod for his debut ahead of the likes of Jason Flynn, Niall Burke, and Jonathan Glynn and repaid MIcheál Donoghue’s faith with 2-1. Eoghan Cahill was beaten five times but made four top-class saves.
Galway won but Joe Canning was a long way off his best.
Kevin Martin did bring Dan Currams closer to his excellent midfield duo David King and Shane Kinsella and they won plenty possession. He opted not to utilise a sweeper though and that attack-minded approach gave the best forward unit in the country to space to thrive in the second half.
Nothing of note reported.
BEST ON SHOW
Joseph Cooney was magnificent in the first half and finished with 1-4 from play. Eoghan Cahill scored a point, stopped a penalty, and made three other saves, two that were brilliant. Ben Conneely was bullish in the Offaly defence.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Johnny Murphy missed a good bit of over-carrying it seemed but was always in control as both teams came out to play.
It doesn’t get any easier for Offaly as they travel to Nowlan Park to take on Kilkenny next Sunday. It’s the Cats next too for Galway on May 27 in Pearse Stadium.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved