O'Flaherty drags wasteful Lilywhites over the line
Kildare 1-15 Offaly 1-13
A goal in the 61st minute by top scorer Eoghan O'Flaherty gave a faltering Kildare just enough breathing space to hang on in an extremely tense qualifier at O'Connor Park.
Jason Ryan's side scored the last six points of the first half and two of the first three in the second period to open up a five-point lead by the 40th minute. They were very wasteful early in that latter half, though, kicking four terrible wides, which kept Offaly in touch.
The home side also had the elements in their favour, and they gradually got themselves back into the contest, with the otherwise ineffectual Nigel Dunne and Anton Sullivan kicking magnificent scores.
Bernard Allen came on and made it a one-point game approaching the hour, but Emmet Bolton, who thundered into proceedings in the final quarter, hit back with his second point before the game's crucial score.
Mikey Conway was on the pitch a matter of seconds when he won a 50-50 battle for possession. He transferred to Bolton, whose shot was smothered. The ball broke kindly for Eamonn Callaghan and though his low shot blasted off the butt of the upright, it bounced up kindly for the alert O'Flaherty, who beat three Offaly defenders to fist to the net.
A mistake by Kevin Murnaghan allowed Peter Cunningham to goal at the other end a minute from the end of normal time with a stunning finish, but Kildare had done enough.
O'Flaherty was magnificent, scoring 1-7 with three of those points coming from play. Tommy Moolick had a huge impact when coming on as a 28th-minute sub for the black-carded Gary White, while Bolton was monumental in the second half and Ciaran Fitzpatrick was irrepressible in the full-back line.
Offaly will rue the fact that they went in at the break trailing by 0-10 to 0-6, having been the better side for most of the opening period. Kildare were playing without confidence - caution and selfishness pockmarked their play. All too often in the first quarter, especially, as Offaly edged ahead, they attempted to shoot with team-mates running off the shoulder in better positions.
By contrast, Offaly looked more cohesive and made a good start, really putting it up to their brittle opponents.
Both sides squandered clear-cut goal chances. Sullivan blazed over from close range after a quick free from Niall McNamee caught the Kildare defence napping, while at the other end, Alan Mulhall got enough on Alan Smith's first-time shot off the deck to give Niall Darby the opportunity to clear the ball off the line.
Smith opted to take a point from another good chance and was about to pull on a loose ball when Eoin Rigney finger-tipped it away. Another half-chance presented itself when Eamonn Callaghan scorched around Rigney, but his fisted pass towards Smith was intercepted.
McNamee was clearly hampered by a broken bone in his hand, but he almost created a goal chance for Dunne with a sumptuous outside-of-the-boot kick pass across the face of goal, but Ciaran Fitzpatrick strained to claw the ball far enough away from the Offaly man. Joey O'Connor also spilled the ball when just breaking the last line of defence.
Still, Pat Flanagan must have been ecstatic as Offaly led by 0-6 to 0-4 with four minutes of normal time remaining in the first half, having played into a stiff breeze.
Willie Mulhall provided three of those points, while McNamee, his cousin Conor, and Sullivan notched up the rest.
Smith was Kildare's most dangerous forward, without being at his best, but suddenly, they hit a period that saw them streak clear.
Scorers - Kildare: E O'Flaherty 1-7(0-4fs); A Smith 0-3; E Bolton 0-2; C McNally, E Callaghan, N Kelly 0-1 each. Offaly: W Mulhall 0-4(3fs); P Cunningham 1-1; N Darby(2fs), A Sullivan 0-2 each; C McNamee, B Allen, N Dunne , N McNamee 0-1 each.
Kildare: M Donnellan, M O'Grady, c Fitzpatrick, O Lyons, E Bolton, E Doyle, K Murnaghan, G White, P Cribbin, P O'Neill, E O'Flaherty, C McNally, E Callaghan, A Smith, N Kelly. Subs: T Moolick for White BC (28), F Dowling for McNally (48), M Conway for Kelly (60).
Offaly: A Mulhall, B Darby, P McConway, E Rigney, N Darby, J Moloney, J O'Connor, C McNamee, N Smith, P Cunningham, G Guilfoyle, A Sullivan, N McNamee, N Dunne, W Mulhall. Subs: E Carroll for Smith inj (h-t), B Allen for Dunne (53), J Evans for N McNamee (56), J Ledwith for Mulhall (66), N Bracken for C McNamee (70+2).
Referee: C Lane (Cork).
Sunday Indo Sport