Vincent Hogan: Dooley wallows in surprise scalp
A gentle smile dances around Joe Dooley's lips as the January mischief commences.
"End of Kilkenny Joe?" chuckles a reporter. "Ah yes," he complies. "That's the end of the five-in-a-row as well. I don't think so now, far from it I'd say now lads."
Offaly hurlers have just beaten Kilkenny in a senior contest for the first time since the '98 All-Ireland final. They are into the last four of the Walsh Cup. Tullamore tingles in a low sun and, in the little yard fronting the old, soon-to-be-demolished dressing-rooms, locals beam with fresh-laundered optimism.
Joe's hurling life has educated him in the folly of seeing a beaten Kilkenny team as anything other than a unit with a cause.
They've lost a cup here and it will be headline news in the coming months if they happen to lose another.
In the meantime, he is contented in the way of a father who has identified spirit in a quiet child.
Offaly won this game from behind, you see. The first time they led was four minutes from the end of normal time, at which point the heat of the contest had intensified to a level that was interesting and decent.
Yet, this wasn't exactly PT Barnum rolling into town with the Big Top. On Saturday, an entirely different Kilkenny team beat their own county champions, Ballyhale Shamrocks, in a splendid Bennettsbridge challenge.
The scalp taken yesterday won't quite have been worthy of bonfires, then. Kilkenny are what they are. The team the rest of the game still chases.
No matter, Offaly -- too -- had maybe a dozen absentees here, maybe half of them tied up with their colleges. And some of those who started, Rory Hanniffy and Dan Currams among them, were -- literally -- playing their first games of the year.
"It's early days yet lads and I wouldn't read too much into it," sighed Dooley, carefully tramping down the embers. "But it's a great start to the year for us because we're working hard to try and get back up there. If Kilkenny had a full team out there, it would obviously have been a different story. But at the same time, psychologically, it's nice to get the win.
"Because a win against Kilkenny is a lift for everybody on the panel. They had a lot of people missing today but, at the same time, maybe 12 out of their 15 would have had All-Ireland medals in their back pocket. I know it's only January, but you have to start somewhere.
"The pleasing thing was that we hurled for the 70 minutes and didn't throw in the towel or drop the heads at any time. If we had lost by a point, it wouldn't have been the end of the world because it's the performances you're looking for."
Offaly looked edgy at the outset and poor striking in front of goal allowed them slip 0-6 to 0-1 adrift inside 18 minutes. Kilkenny, particularly in the form of half-backs John Dalton and PJ Delaney, looked to have a physical edge while Richie Hogan and John Mulhall especially seemed to be ambling about their business at the far end.
Yet, a Daniel Currams free was bundled over the line by Ger Healion in first-half injury-time and Dooley can't but have been delighted to see his charges slip down the tunnel just one adrift (1-6 to 0-10).
Cathal Parlon was the pick of the forwards, yet should have done better in the 17th minute when, having dummied Damien Fogarty almost out of the ground, he shot weakly at David Herrity.
Likewise for Kilkenny, Hogan twice handpassed to a team-mate when the selfish option would have been the right one.
Just after the resumption, Martin Boran's first-time pull on a Lester Ryan delivery put Kilkenny three to the good and, seemingly, ready to stretch away.
But Offaly wouldn't die and, remarkably, Kilkenny did not register a single score in the closing 17 minutes. At the same time, the Cats conceded 0-5 and had David Herrity to thank for a wonderful reflex save from Shane Kelly.
The game was won in the last five minutes, Joe Bergin making a towering catch from a puck-out to draw Offaly level and substitute, Kevin Brady, putting them in front after fielding Herrity's very next delivery. The gentle smatterings of applause from the 500 or so assembled were now hardening into roars.
Parlon scored his third point of the day from another Kevin Brady surge and Bergin then closed the casket with a resounding thump, driving over a monster free from deep in his own half.
Brian Cody watched it unfold, hands in pockets, face impassive. You could tell he has lived through more harrowing days.
"We put ourselves in a position where we could win the game and we didn't win it. You'll always be disappointed when that happens," he said afterwards.
"But I'm happy enough. We're just looking at lads obviously, trying to open up the panel and see how players go in a competitive game. Certainly we'd have learnt things from today for sure."
Offaly progress then to a semi-final against Galway next Sunday. Kilkenny slip back to the salt mines.
SCORERS -- Offaly: D Currams 0-4 (0-4f), C Parlon, J Bergin (0-2f) 0-3 each, G Healion 1-0, R Hanniffy, S Kelly 0-2 each, G Oakley, K Brady 0-1 each. Kilkenny: M Boran 1-1, R Hogan 0-4 (0-2f), J Mulhall 0-3, M Grace 0-2, E McGrath ,M Bergin, PJ Delaney (0-1f) 0-1 each.
OFFALY -- J Dempsey; S Egan, E Murphy, S Wynne; J Rigney, J Bergin, D Morkan; G Oakley, J Keane; R Hanniffy J Brady, S Kelly; C Parlon, G Healion, D Currams. Subs: K Brady for Keane (55), F Daly for Kelly (62), P Cleary for Brady (64).
KILKENNY -- D Herrity; K Joyce, C Hickey, D Fogarty; J Dalton, PJ Delaney, D Prendergast; J Tennyson, L Ryan; J Mulhall, E McGrath, M Grace; M Boran, R Hogan, M Bergin. Subs: M Ruth for Bergin (h-t), N Walsh for Tennyson (44), M Walsh for Dalton (57), A Fogarty for Grace (69).
Ref -- J McGrath (Westmeath).