Dooley backs Offaly to bounce back
Allianz Hurling league Div 1
For a game that was at times as relaxed as Sunday afternoon cricket on an English village green, the level of attrition in Nowlan Park was quite spectacular.
Even the officials didn't escape. The appointed referee Anthony Stapleton pulled up after only eight minutes with a leg injury, pressing linesman Barry Kelly into an unexpected afternoon of action.
The Kilkenny dressing-room was like a war zone. Michael Fennelly with a suspected broken bone in his hand; John Dalton off to hospital with what Brian Cody described afterwards as a "serious" ankle injury; Aidan Fogarty in similarly bad shape; and Richie Hogan also checking in for care with more ankle trouble.
All that on top of the significant wounded list they have already built up.
But the biggest casualties were Offaly. Their suffering wasn't physical. Just when it looked like Nowlan Park would be the least consequential of any of the four Division 1 venues, apart from rubberstamping Kilkenny's place in the final, it took on a meaning and a life of its own.
During a lengthy break in play in the closing stages which was required to remove Fogarty from the field by stretcher with a serious Achilles injury, the PA announcer took time to call out other results from around the country.
His message was pretty much as expected in Thurles, Tipperary leading Wexford by 0-16 to 0-12.
But whatever breakdown in communication there was, it later transpired that Wexford had already plundered a match-saving goal by that stage and had actually taken the lead before being pegged back for a draw.
Oblivious to the turn of events, Offaly played out what was now in everyone's minds a meaningless finish. But when confirmation of the result in Thurles boomed out across the tannoy within seconds of the final whistle in Nowlan Park, Offaly's players were shellshocked.
Hands on heads they slumped to their knees in the knowledge that they were back in hurling purgatory for at least another year unless there is some success in changing the format for the league at Central Council in the coming months. Don't rule it out.
It was a turn of events that they could never have expected when they emerged from O'Connor Park three weeks ago with a precious win over Wexford. So much for that being a relegation play-off. So much for Wexford's demise.
The Offaly manager Joe Dooley managed to put a brave face on it. They had scored 1-19 in Nowlan Park; it was, in his opinion, their best performance of the league, but the penalty they pay for such luxuries is extreme. It's a difficult one to square.
The PA announcement had no influence on their mindset in the closing 10 minutes or so, he admitted.
"We were six points down at the time and we probably weren't going to get it back anyway," said Dooley. "To be fair to Wexford they went up to Thurles and got a result. A draw is enough to keep them in Division 1 so you have to hand it to them. We wish them the best of luck."
Division 2, if it transpires, will be a setback but not one they can't surmount, he figured. "We were in Division 2 two years ago and I hurled in Division 2 in my time as well. Offaly won All-Irelands from there. There's no reason these lads can't be the same.
"I think these boys will bounce back from this. They have six weeks to get over it and get ready for the championship. That's what we would have been gearing towards irrespective of what happened today."
Cork's selection of a skeleton team for their trip to Wexford raises questions about the bona fides of this league however. They're entitled to send out whatever team they want but should other counties, like Offaly, pay the consequences for that strategy?
A losing tally of 1-19 is a positive for Dooley but a concern for Brian Cody.
The nature of the game has to be taken into account. The Cats' injury count might suggest otherwise, but this wasn't as full-blooded or intense as the 48 scores suggest.
From the moment, four minutes in, that Eddie Brennan took full advantage of David Kenny's knock-down into his path and punished it with a goal the tone was set.
TJ Reid was immense at midfield in that first half, Michael Fennelly grafted superbly beside him and that was the channel the home side exploited to build up a 1-15 to 0-10 interval lead.
Offaly, for whom Shane Dooley and Brian Carroll impressed, can take solace from the second-half result, 0-12 to 1-9, which again underlines an inconsistent streak that has stalked Kilkenny throughout this league.
"We've been inconsistent in our 70-minute performances, for sure," Cody said. "We've dominated for periods and we've been dominated for periods also. The game became loose in the last 20 minutes or so and some day we'll suffer for conceding those kind of scores."
The injuries are beginning to stretch the squad beyond even Kilkenny's capacity. Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney are both ready to return but won't be rushed, according to Cody, if they are not right. But availability for the league final looks certain once they play with their clubs next weekend.
Henry Shefflin is running again but reports of a prospective return for Shamrocks are wide of the mark, it seems.
Man of the Match: TJ Reid (Kilkenny)
Scorers -- Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-9 (5f, 1 '65), E Brennan 1-3, R Hogan, J 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, M Rice 0-3 each, P Hogan, M Ruth 0-2 each, M Fennelly, E Larkin 0-1 each. Offaly: S Dooley 1-8 (6f), B Carroll, C Parlon 0-3 each, C Mahon 0-2, D Molloy, J Bergin, G Healion 0-1 each.
Kilkenny -- PJ Ryan 7; P Murphy 6, B Hogan 7, J Tyrrell 6; P Hogan 8, J Dalton 8, R Doyle 6; TJ Reid 8, M Fennelly 7; J 'Cha' Fitzpatrick 7, M Rice 8, E Larkin 6; M Ruth 6, E Brennan 7, R Hogan 7. Subs: PJ Delaney 6 for Fennelly (h-t), A Fogarty for R Hogan (64), J Mulhall for Fogarty (71), C Fogarty for Dalton (77).
Offaly -- J Dempsey 7; M Verney 7, D Kenny 5, S Egan 6; S Wynne 6, R Hannify 7, D Morkam 6; D Franks 6, C Mahon 6; C Egan 5, S Dooley 8, D Molloy 6; C Parlon 8, J Bergin 6 B Carroll 7. Subs: B Mulrooney 6 for Kenny (43), G Healion 6 for Egan (44), J Mulrooney 6 for Molloy (54), S Kelly for Morkam (67).
Ref -- A Stapleton (Laois).*
* Stapleton had to retire injured after eight minutes and was replaced by Westmeath's Barry Kelly.