OFFALY 3-15 WEXFORD 1-8 LARRY MURPHY stood beneath the giant concrete columns of the new Cusack Stand at Croke Park yesterday and told it how it was. ``In the end it was farcical, they just took us apart,'' lamented the Wexford full-forward.
His words were blunt, to the point, and they came straight from a broken heart.
It was a difficult admission for the Claughbawn man to make, but his views were surely shared by many of the 41,164 crowd who had seen Offaly record a crushing 13 point victory over Wexford in what transpired to be a lop-sided Guinness Leinster Hurling Championship semi-final.
The hordes of Wexford supporters, dressed in their purple and gold, were in an expectant mood as they arrived at Croke Park on what was a scorching summer afternoon, but their mood darkened as the game wore on and with over ten minutes left, many had already headed disconsolately towards the exits.
All hope of a revival was abandoned 12 minutes from the finish whe big Joe Errity collected a sublime centre from Michael Duignan, and with Darragh Ryan looking towards the heavens for help, he whipped the ball past a helpless Damien Fitzhenry for Offaly's second goal.
That goal came after the dismissal of Wexford's centre-back Liam Dunne for his second ``bookable'' challenge on substitute John Troy - a foul which also presented Johnny Dooley with the opportunity to stroke over yet another free. The unerring Dooley, who finished the day with nine points and an enhanced reputation, duly obliged.
During those predictable last 10 minutes, Offaly brought in a couple of more substitutes and took off Duignan, Joe Dooley and Johnny Pilkington, but still they continued to steam-roll the opposition into the sun-baked green sward, with Gary Hanniffy's third goal rubbing more salt into the wounds of the disconsolate Wexford men.
In the Wexford dressingroom afterwards, the scene was in stark contrast to the unforgettable celebrations of '96. It was a rather nostalgic occasion for some as we are unlikely to see players like Martin Storey and Tom Dempsey, and possibly others too, wear the county jersey again.
``Thanks for all your help and kindness down the years,'' said Dempsey to journalists as he walked out of Croke Park with his young daughter.
There was talk about what might have been, especially if they had been able to build on Murphy's goal three minutes before the interval which reduced the deficit to four points.
However, the tide did not turn and the chance was lost when somehow Paul Codd was unable to convert a free which seemed a formality after he had succeeded with two long range efforts earlier.
Indeed, it was as if Wexford never got out of the traps. They never got a scoring run together, and apart from the goal, all their efforts and toil under the hot sun in the first half yielded just single points in the fifth, 17th, 22nd and 31st minutes.
During that opening half, Wexford were not lacking in heart and had some sterling defensive performances from Colm Kehoe and Sean Flood, as well as Rory McCarthy on the right wing, while Storey was always battling manfully to find an opening against the Offaly colossus that is Brian Whelahan.
But this toil was just not enough to stop Offaly from coming back at them in waves. The Offaly defence, marshalled by a triangle of those incredible Whelahan brothers, was completely unruffled by the loss the injured Kevin Martin after just eight minutes.
Niall Claffey ably filled the boots of the retired Martin Hanamy in the left corner, while those who said that Kevin Kinihan was vulnerable had to eat a few words too.
The backs played superbly as a unit, providing the perfect platform for Offaly to turn defence into attack in sweeping movements.
And just like Kilkenny, who savaged Dublin in the opening game, once the Faithful men eased a few points clear, they just grew and grew in stature and confidence.
And why wouldn't they be confident when they had a man like Johnny Dooley who seemed to have created some giant magnet behind the posts which drew in everything he stroked from play and frees.
It was 0-5 to 0-2 after 20 minutes when Wexford's house started to topple. Johnny Pilkington took a pass from Brian Whelahan before lobbing it gracefully into Duignan who caused ample anxiety for Damien Fitzhenry, Darragh Ryan and Flood before Brendan Murphy showed the speed of a sprinter, flashing in and cracking the loose ball to the net.
Wexford moved Murphy to full-forward and Rod Guiney to wing-back in a switch with McCarthy, but to no avail. In fairness to them, they might have had another goal or two in that first half had they been able to capitalise on a few chances, like when Christ McGrath crossed from the end line and when Byrne lost possession in the edge of the square.
It seemed that we were in for a most interesting second half as Offaly were still just 1-8 to 1-4 ahead at the break. And when Murphy ran through the Offaly defence like a man inspired on the resumption, we sat back waiting for it to explode into a classic.
But this never materialised as Wexford scored just a single point - from Murphy - during the next 25 minutes, while Offaly stitched four points in quick succession between the 13th and 18th minutes from Dooley, Troy and a fine effort from Hanniffy after he collected the most perfect of centres from Brian Whelanan.
The game was up for the model county.
SCORERS - Offaly: J Dooley 0-9 (6f, 1 `65'), J Errity 1-1, G Hanniffy 1-1, B Murphy 1-0, Joe Dooley 0-2, J Pilkington, J Troy 0-1 each. Wexford: L Murphy 1-2, P Codd 0-4 (2f, 1 `65'), M Jordan and M Storey 0-1 each.
OFFALY - S Byrne; S Whelana, K Kinahan, N Claffey; B Whelahan, B Whelahan, K Martin; Johnny Dooley, J Pilkington; P Mulhare, G Hanniffy, B Murphy; M Duignan, J Errity, Joe Dooley. Subs: D Franks for Martin (7m), J Ryan for Duignan (60 m), C Gath for Joe Dooley (65m), G Oakley for Pilkington (66 m).
WEXFORD - D Fitzhenry; C Kehoe, D Ryan, S Flood; R McCarthy, L Dunne, D Ruth; A Fenlon, R Guiney; L Murphy, M Storey, P Codd; T Dempsey, M Jordan, C McGrath. Subs: J Lawlor for McGrath (44m), R Quigley for Jordan (51m), PJ Carley for Dempsey (55m), R Hassey for Storey (67m).
REF - W Barrett (Tipperary).