Gorman's late goals give Offaly Cats scalp
Offaly 3-9 Kilkenny 1-9
James Gorman's late goals handed Offaly a deserved victory over an experimental Kilkenny side in what was a successful return to inter-county hurling at St Brendan’s Park, Birr following a nine-year absence for the Faithful.
Minus a host of All Stars and Hurlers of the Year, this early season reversal is unlikely to cause the Cats to lose much sleep but it is significant for Offaly, and perhaps a statement of intent in Eamonn Kelly’s reign.
With the sides level on 66 minutes, the momentum looked to be with the young Kilkenny side, having reeled off three points in a row. But the towering Gorman turned the game on its head.
The Kilcormac-Killoughey attacker, introduced on the stroke of half time, caused havoc at full-forward in the closing stages and expertly finished to the net following a fine catch before following up with a sweet first-time strike.
James Mulrooney’s early goal had Offaly leading 1-5 to 1-2 at the break and with heavy conditions making it difficult for free-flowing hurling, new boss Kelly praised his side’s tireless effort, particularly at the death.
“Anytime you beat Kilkenny is a good day,” Kelly said. “Because no matter what 15 guys they have, they give everything. But I thought we matched them for intensity and we showed great character to push on when it was tight.
“Work-rate is something that we’re marking. Lads know what is expected of them and they know that if they’re not working they won’t be playing. Everybody put in a huge shift.
“This surpassed anything we’ve done to date. Our hurling has been limited with conditions and training but their fitness is showing. Their attitude is good and we can’t train that.”
Scores were at a premium in a real winter grind but the work-rate of both sides was faultless and Mulrooney opened the scoring in the sixth minute when powering a shot past Aaron Duggan.
Shane Dooley fired over his first of seven placed balls soon after but Kilkenny roared back with Billy Ryan, who impressed throughout, hitting the net after a well-worked team move.
A brace of Dooley frees put Offaly back in control while fellow dual player Joey O’Connor hit a fine long-range point, followed by a huge score from centre-back Conor Doughan, while two Michael Kenny frees were all the Cats could muster against a stiff breeze .
Eddie Brennan’s Kilkenny side, made up mostly of U-21s and with Shane Prendergast the only starter from Kilkenny’s 2015 All-Ireland final, opened the new half brightly with sub Ciarán Ryan and Brian Kennedy on target.
Dooley responded with a pair of frees but Offaly were lucky to not concede a goal in the 44th minute with some last-gasp defending leading to Doughan clearing off the line from Jonjo Farrell.
Mark Kelly and Kennedy left the minimum between the sides but a Dooley free and a ’65, following an excellent stop by Duggan, extended the gap before a trio of points, from Farrell (free), sub Niall Mullins and Michael Malone, levelled affairs.
The visitors were in the ascendancy but buoyed by a large home following, Offaly finished with a flourish as Dooley and Gorman combined twice in quick succession to kill the game.
An excellent Dooley cross was caught by Gorman who finished with aplomb under intense pressure. With Shane Kinsella now efficiently sweeping in front of the Offaly defence there was no way through for Kilkenny and another Dooley pass was volleyed sweetly to the net.
It put the gloss on a hard-working display by the Faithful, who are now just 70 minutes away from an early season venture to Croke Park if they can win away to Wexford next Sunday.
Kelly acknowledged the sizeable support and believes the hurling side would be best served by splitting games between Birr and O’Connor Park, Tullamore. He said: “Every time there was a tackle or a score there was a great cheer and lads feed off that and it was great to see it. We’ve two fantastic facilities in Offaly and it would be great if games were divided out between them.”
Meanwhile, Kilkenny U-21 manager Brennan said he now realises the demands being placed on young GAA players and feels it might be time to scrap the Walsh Cup.
“This year has definitely opened up my eyes even further between colleges and freshers,” Brennan said. “You’re getting a feel for what fellas are doing regards freshers programmes and some of it is just off-the-wall.
“There is far too much hurling. I’ve won a few Walsh Cups but I would question whether it has run its course too. There is a lot going on in the season and maybe leave this time of year free for the third-level colleges.
“It might take some of the pressure off for the players and there is merit in reducing the number of games for players between the ages of 18 and 21.”
SCORERS – Offaly: S Dooley 0-7 (6f, ‘65); J Gorman 2-0; J Mulrooney 1-0; C Doughan, J O’Connor 0-1 each. Kilkenny: B Ryan 1-0; B Kennedy (2f), M Kenny (2f) 0-2 each; N Mullins, M Malone, JJ Farrell (f), C Ryan 0-1 each.
OFFALY – J Dempsey; N Wynne, B Leonard, P Rigney; D Mooney, C Doughan, P Camon; S Kinsella, J O’Connor; P Murphy, C Egan, J Sampson; S Dooley, J Mulrooney, S Cleary. Subs: B Murphy for S Cleary and J Gorman for J Sampson (both 35), S Quirke for P Murphy (57), G Conneely for J O’Connor (66) and J Bergin for J Mulrooney (70).
KILKENNY – A Duggan; C Delaney, S Prendergast, C Wallace; B Kennedy, L Ryan, J Hayes; O Walsh, L Scanlon; P Lyng, M Malone, M Kenny; B Ryan, JJ Farrell, M Kelly. Subs: C Ryan for M Kenny (ht), C Browne for L Scanlon (44), N Mullins for J Hayes (57) and JP Treacy for O Walsh (66).
REF – A Devine (Westmeath).