Malone strike puts Rhode on final path
Rhode 2-11 Skryne 1-10
Roy Malone is still remembered for the goal that was very much the trademark of Offaly's shock Leinster final victory over Meath in 1997.
And yesterday he turned back the clock to settle this clash in Navan with a late goal that allowed Rhode to kill off a spirited challenge from Meath champions Skryne.
Malone, only on the pitch a few minutes, was in the right place at the right time to bat home and finish a productive move involving Glen O'Connell and the ever-improving Anton Sullivan that had ripped the Skryne defence apart.
It pinpricked Skryne's momentum, which had been building steadily throughout the second half and had got real impetus when Kevin Mulvaney booted home a goal after Rhode full-back Eoghan Byrne had the misfortune to drop an Ian Davis free in the goalmouth.
Rhode manager Tom Coffey was playing for Offaly that day 13 years ago and the man he was marking, Trevor Giles, was at the core of Skryne's effort to hang onto Rhode's coat-tails in a very exciting half. But they left themselves with just too much to do after a first half in which Niall McNamee once again displayed why he is one of the classiest attackers in the province.
The win puts Rhode back in familiar territory. For the third time in five years Offaly's modern-day giants have made it to the Leinster club final. They have yet to taste success however.
But they'll feel there's even more in them than they showed yesterday and the game will undoubtedly bring them on after a rather benign provincial campaign up to now.
McNamee is central to their effort and while Niall Darby and Sullivan contributed wholesomely to their collective attacking effort, they'll stand or fall on what their marquee forward delivers.
The Meath defence had trouble with him in Tullamore in May so it was reasonable to expect that Skryne would endure serious difficulties with him too.
In that sense, they left the door open for him for too long in the first half and, with the wind blowing into his corner, he gradually made his presence felt against Mark Jordan, weaving his way into good positions before laying off or shooting himself.
His goal on 13 minutes had an element of luck about it, a delivery from midfield misread by Jordan allowing McNamee in behind with the cover beaten. A neat dummy took him past the advancing Felim O'Rourke and the finish was cool for a 1-2 to 0-2 lead.
They built on it steadily and by the 23rd minute they were a further three points clear, 1-6 to 0-3, with holes appearing everywhere in a hard-pressed Skryne defence. It looked as if the gulf in class was significant.
At the other end, Mulvaney was a threat but Rhode had the measure of Skryne's much vaunted half-forward line, which featured Giles with David Hope shadowing the one-time Footballer of the Year diligently.
Coffey felt afterwards that more ball, more often into McNamee would have reaped even greater dividends. "Niall was excellent inside but from our point of view, we didn't get enough ball into him. Any ball he got, he did damage. After that they got more bodies back and the more he dummied and the more they read it, that trick was gone."
A late Mark Battersby point gave Skryne a glimmer of hope at five points down (1-7 to 0-5), the same margin they had chased down Seneschalstown from in their county final success almost two months earlier at the same venue.
They made a significant structural adjustment, too, at the break, placing Ciaran Lenehan as McNamee's direct opponent in the corner. Lenehan is one of the players Seamus McEnaney will have an eye on in 2011 and while he struggled at centre-back, his value as a man-marker was evident in the way he handled McNamee. Skryne's full-back line was more secure in his company and Meath's could be, too, in the future.
Ian Davis kept knocking over the frees, even if his contribution from general play was limited, and when Giles was fouled for two frees which Davis converted approaching the three-quarter mark, Skryne had put themselves in a perfect position at 1-8 to 0-9 in arrears.
But the measure of Rhode was their composure and the next three points, two from McNamee (one free) and another from midfielder Alan McNamee, restored a 1-11 to 0-9 lead.
Patrick O'Rourke knocked over a '45' from the same position where McNamee had botched quite a few efforts in the first half, before Mulvaney showed opportunism at close range.
But Malone had the final say, ghosting into the right position to leave it comfortable at the end.
For Skryne, there is satisfaction at the progress made with a relatively young team. There is no shame in losing to a team of Rhode's calibre by just two scores.
Coffey knows there are areas to improve on over the next two weeks and Kilmacud Crokes represent a significant step up for them.
"We overplayed the ball and we weren't clinical," he said. "We never got far enough ahead. In their last few games, they have won their games in the last 10 minutes so we knew they were going to be strong then and we didn't panic, even after their goal. Kilmacud are a serious team, they have so much talent coming through. They have one or two injuries but they'd want seven or eight to get down to our level."
Scorers -- Rhode: N McNamee 1-4 (0-1f), N Darby 0-3 (0-1f), R Malone 1-0, A Sullivan 0-2, A McNamee, D Hope 0-1 each. Skryne: I Davis 0-6 (0-6f), K Mulvaney 1-1, M Battersby, P O'Rourke ('45'), A Tuite 0-1 each.
Rhode -- E McDonald; D Murphy; E Byrne, B Darby; C Heavey, D Hope, S Sullivan; A McNamee, M Dunne; G O'Connell, P Sullivan, A Sullivan; N Darby, P Kellaghan, N McNamee. Subs: R Malone for P Sullivan (52).
Skryne -- F O'Rourke; M Jordan, D Beaton, A Curry; J Looby, C Lenehan, J Hegarty; A Tuite, D McGoldrick; P O'Rourke, T Giles, I Davis; K Mulvaney, B Byrne, M Battersby. Subs: B Davis for Byrne (43), P Fox for McGoldrick (52), V O'Reilly for Hegarty (58).
REF -- M Deegan (Laois).