Kerry stun Offaly but still face relegation play-off

It can be a thin line between victory and success and Kerry hurlers got the full gamut of emotions as national league hurling returned to St Brendan’s Park in Birr for the first time in almost a decade.

Kerry stun Offaly but still face relegation play-off

Kerry rightly gave full vent to their joy at the full-time whistle when they secured their first win over Offaly in almost 60 years; the celebrations multiplied when it was incorrectly implied that they had reached the quarter-finals of the league.

So you can imagine the deflation when the correct result came through from Portlaoise and it became apparent that far from having a quarter-final joust with one of the really big guns, they must again defeat Laois in a relegation play-off.

Offaly and Wexford, both with only two wins, head for the last eight while Kerry, also with four points, take on a Laois side without even a single point.

Fair?

“We will deal with it but it is a strange thing. We have two games won, it is a league table and I firmly believe anyone who is on zero points should be the team to go down, whether that’s Kerry, Offaly or anyone else. It’s strange and it’s something the so-called big boys need to look at,” said manager Ciaran Carey.

He has taken on the work done by Eamon Kelly — now, of course, the Offaly boss — and shown that promoted Kerry can it at this level.

They looked dead and buried early in each half in this exciting contest yesterday but never lost their composure and clawed their way back, only hitting the front for the first time 14 minutes from the end.

“We showed serious character in this one. We were 1-2 down after just four minutes and then straight after half-time our mistakes led to two Offaly points.

The progress made by Kerry this season is no surprise to Offaly manager Kelly, not least as he instilled a lot of those qualities in a side he guided to win the Christy Ring Cup last year.

And while he obviously was not happy at being turned over at home for the second time in the campaign, he acknowledged the better team won.

“They showed huge character in coming back and they deserved their victory. Kerry did to us what we did to Wexford. They fought harder and credit to them, they wanted it more and you can’t take anything from their victory.”

Offaly, still far too dependent on Shane Dooley for scores, will get a fair indication of where they stand when they take on All-Ireland champions Kilkenny in the quarter-finals.

“We now need to regroup and get ourselves as right as we can over the next two weeks for Kilkenny. We know where we are, we know what we have to do and it’s important now we get a good performance against Kilkenny,” added Kelly.

A cracking shot to the roof of the net by Joe Bergin saw Offaly race into a 1-2 to 0-0 after just five minutes but they found scores from play hard to come by and while Kerry’s first touch was not always sharp, the tackled and harassed well.

John Egan was once again in top form up front for Kerry where the pace of Jordan Conway caused the home defence plenty of trouble.

Dooley was again the main provider of scores for Offaly and when they extended their 1-11 to 0-10 interval lead with two quick scores after the restart, only one outcome seemed likely.

But then Egan soloed through for a superb goal for Kerry and while James Mulrooney responding by hitting the net for Offaly, a tight finish was guaranteed when Colum Harty leveled going into the final quarter.

Conway’s third point edged Kerry in front for the first time 14 minutes from the end. The lead changed hand twice after that as Dooley and Egan continued their shootout but Kerry secured a famous win with late scores from Egan and Shane Nolan.

Scorers for Kerry:

J Egan (1-10, 9 frees), J Conway (0-3), C Harty (1-0), J Griffin (0-2), M Boyle (0-2), S Nolan (0-1).

Scorers for Offaly:

S Dooley (0-13, 8 frees, 1 sideline, 1 ’65), J Mulrooney (1-1), J Bergin (1-1), C Egan (0-1), S Ryan (0-1).

KERRY:

A McCabe; B Murphy, P Kelly, K Carmody; J Diggins, D Dineen, T Murnane; D Collins, J Griffin; B O’Leary, M O’Leary, J Buckley; J Conway, M Boyle, J Egan.

Subs:

C Harty for Buckley (35), S Nolan for B O’Leary (54), T Casey for Diggins (58), S Weir for Kelly (63), P Lucid for Griffin (70).

OFFALY:

J Dempsey; N Wynne, C McDonald, P Rigney; P Camon, C Doughan, D Shortt; S Kinsella, S Ryan; P Murphy, C Egan, J Mulrooney; S Dooley, J Bergin, S Cleary.

Subs:

J Sampson for Murphy (32 mins), C Kiely for Cleary (42), K Connolly for Kinsella (52), S Connolly for Wynne (55), P Guinan for Ryan (64).

Referee:

J Keane (Galway).

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