Offaly 1-19 Kilkenny 0-24
Twenty years looking for a league or Championship win over Kilkenny, the wait for Offaly continues although they came awful close here.
Twice in the closing 10 minutes, the home side levelled the game to the delight of most of the 3,522 Tullamore crowd but each time TJ Reid was on hand to catch the subsequent puckout and he also answered both equalisers with a point, the latter of them ultimately sending Kilkenny into a last-four clash with Wexford or Galway.
Walter Walsh did back up Reid each time with scores and Kilkenny were grateful for them as a feisty if at times over-eager Offaly side made life awkward for the Cats.
Kevin Martin knows there is plenty of room for improvement but at least the attitude is right.
For Brian Cody, the blooding of his youngsters continues and while he felt he had to replace his midfield close to the hour mark and corner-forward Ger Aylward and Richie Reid struggled, there were a number of positives from Liam Blanchfield’s contributions to Luke Scanlon and Luke Donnelly’s cameo performances from the bench.
The manager felt relieved after avoiding what, despite the personnel involved, would still have been regarded as a shock.
“Offaly are a very, very good team. Physically, very strong, good ball winners. I expected a massive battle up here and we got it, for sure.”
Martin mentioned the phrase “moral victory” before dismissing it. The performance if not the result will give them something tangible to hang on as they break before they commence their preparations for the Leinster championship where they face a gauntlet of four games in as many weekends.
That Kilkenny weren’t allowed to pull away was a plus for Martin. “I suppose half of the time that’s why you have to talk to players to get into their heads anyway to see what way they are.
“In fairness, we do a lot of talking to the guys one-to-one and you’d always be talking to them in training, trying to build them up. Just trying to get them to release themselves so they are well able to hurl because they have been in a box this past three years, and they have been afraid to express themselves and now they are just starting to do it, and it’s great to see it.
“Confidence breeds confidence and they are starting to get confident in their own game now.”
Given the strength of the wind at their backs, Offaly had to be ahead at half-time and they were, 1-10 to 0-10, their goal coming from Conor Mahon who managed to beat Darren Brennan at the second time of asking in the 33rd minute.
Kilkenny had the ball in the Offaly net soon after but Richie Reid’s strike was ruled out for a square ball offence.
Kilkenny relied on TJ Reid’s sharpshooting from frees for almost half their scores in the opening period, whereas Offaly found it difficult to pick up frees early on.
“No comment!” smiled Martin wryly about Paud O’Dwyer’s officiating.
“Yeah, listen, the ref was probably hard on us a few times but I suppose he’s human too, we’re all human and we make mistakes. He’s not going to get every call right.
“You have to get those things out of your head, you have to go out and win the game no matter who is refereeing it. While we’ve some grievances over some of the decisions, I won’t be complaining about it. We could have pushed on and won it at times, we just didn’t I suppose. That’s the way it goes.
“Kilkenny are a serious team and, you know, Walter Walsh got a couple of good balls there in the second-half,
TJ Reid got a couple of scores that just kept us out of touch. But it could have been different.”
Although Kilkenny had Offaly’s lead wiped out by the 42nd minute and were ahead a minute later, Mahon and Pat Canon carried the fight to them.
Walsh then won a couple of borderline frees that Reid converted and Kilkenny led by three points with just over 15 minutes of normal time remaining.
Scores from Shane Dooley and Mahon, though, brought Offaly right back into the frame, and although Kilkenny went two up again in the 64th minute through Donnelly, David King and Joe Bergin fired over points into the breeze and the game was tied for an eighth time.
Cue the tag team of Reid and Walsh to come to the rescue, with Darren Brennan directing his puckouts well. They were required again after Dooley, via a wonder score from close to the sideline followed by a free, had Offaly believing they could steal it.
Scorers for Offaly: S. Dooley (0-8, 5 frees), C. Mahon (1-2); S. Kinsella, C. Egan, J. Bergin (0-2 each); C. Kiely, D. Currams, D. King (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kilkenny: T.J. Reid (0-12, 9 frees); W. Walsh (0-4); L. Blanchfield (0-3); J. Maher, J. Donnelly (0-2 each); G. Aylward (0-1).
OFFALY: E. Cahill; T. Spain, S. Gardiner, B. Connelly; D. O’Toole, D. Shortt, P. Camon; S. Kinsella, D. King (c); C. Mahon, C. Kiely, C. Egan; S. Dooley, J. Bergin, D. Currams.
Subs for Offaly: P. Rigney for S. Gardiner (inj 47); O. Kelly for C. Kiely, D. Egan for S. Kinsella (both 58); T. Geraghty for C. Egan (67); S. Ryan for P. Rigney (blood, 70+3).
KILKENNY: Holden, P. Walsh, P. Deegan; C. Delaney, C. Buckley (c), C. Browne; R. Leahy, O. Walsh; L. Blanchfield, T.J. Reid, J. Maher; G. Aylward, W. Walsh, R. Reid.
Subs for Kilkenny: L. Scanlon for G. Aylward, J. Donnelly for O. Walsh (both 41); L. Ryan for R. Leahy (61); E. Morrissey for C. Brow
The interventions by TJ Reid and Walter Walsh on two occasions near the death.
They were both on the mark after Offaly equalised twice and proved the difference for Kilkenny.
This game may have been likened to a challenge game at times given the lack of intensity but there is little doubt that Offaly are improving. ”Training hard and they’re putting in the effort, they’re starting to get there, they’re starting to believe in their hurling so we’re heading in the right direction,” said manager Kevin Martin. “Pity we didn’t win the game but that’s hurling.”
For supporters, commentators and journalists as both teams lined out not only as per programme but one to 15 in positions. Manna.
Early second-half substitutions for Ger Aylward and Ollie Walsh mean they will have plenty to prove to Brian Cody in training.
Paddy Rigney went off as a late blood substitute having come on for Seán Gardiner who shipped a serious injury early in the second half.
The wind factor ensured it was the game of two halves, Kilkenny winning their wind half by five and Offaly by three. That was largely the difference as tactics weren’t a deciding factor.
BEST ON SHOW
Reid and Walsh were the real leaders in the Kilkenny side but Pat Camon and Conor Mahon were in great form for the home side.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Offaly struggled to gain a free early on from Paud O’Dwyer although he was sharp on most issues.
Kilkenny await the winners of Wexford and Galway in a Division 1 semi-final, likely to take place on March 31 or April 1. Offaly open their Leinster SHC against Galway in Tullamore on May 12.
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