Superior Kingdom rightly retain their McDonagh status

Joe McDonagh Cup Round 4: Kerry 1-18 Offaly 1-16

Patrick Kelly of Kerry and James Gorman of Offaly after the Joe McDonagh Cup match at Austin Stack Park. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Patrick Kelly of Kerry and James Gorman of Offaly after the Joe McDonagh Cup match at Austin Stack Park. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Damian Stack, Austin Stack Park, Tralee

Amidst all the anguish and all the talk of history being made and darkest days and rock bottom for Offaly, one little thing seems to have been overlooked: the team which beat them.

Kerry were comfortably the better side. The side which had done more over the last month to justify their Joe McDonagh Cup status, the side which played the better hurling, the side which played the more committed hurling. No question about it the Kingdom fully deserved their victory.

Was it a perfect performance? Of course not. A lot of mistakes were made - by both sides - but on a day like this that matters not one jot. Days like this are for winning. Despite the weight of the world on their shoulders, Kerry won. That and that alone is the important thing.

Naturally enough there were nervous moments along the way. Hell the whole match was practically one elongated nervous moment. Even when things seemed to be going well for Kerry they couldn't afford to relax, not for a moment, there was too much on the line.

When Offaly started the game well and the partisan Offaly crowd - who seemed to make up a majority of the 782 in attendance - began to roar their approval, it was possible to imagine this becoming a most difficult afternoon for the home side.

Offaly had the breeze for the first half and, given their relative lack of form and confidence, that was perfect for them. An Eoghan Cahill free from deep inside his own half just a minute into the match gave an early indication of how powerful the breeze into Horan's end might be.

Further points from Shane Dooley (from a free), Cillian Kelly (another long distance effort) and the lively looking Kevin Connolly gave Offaly precisely what they needed, a strong start and a solid lead. Confidence building all the time, with each subsequent score.

Kerry weren't exactly reeling though. Their kept their heads about them - doing what they could to limit Offaly and force their way back into the game - which is more than you can say for Offaly wing-forward Peter Geraghty who got himself sent off for an off the ball incident with Kerry wing-back Daniel Collins.

At a stroke - quite literally - the tenor of the game changed, the pendulum swung back in Kerry's direction. A disaster for Offaly, a shot in the arm for the Kingdom. A pointed free from Shane Conway reduced the margin to three coming up on ten minutes. Game on.

Offaly though remained dangerous as they proved on eleven minutes when they won a penalty - Bryan Murphy caught Kevin Connolly high, leaving Colm Lyons with no choice but to point to the spot.

Shane Dooley stepped up. John Brendan O'Halloran stood resolute for Kerry. The scion of that most famous of Offaly dynasties stood up and struck low and hard to the keeper's right. The Kilmoyley man, however, guessed correctly and got down to make a smart save. The pendulum swung that little bit more.

Over the next ten minutes - with the gold shirts dominant at puck-out time - Kerry reeled Offaly in, outscoring them four points to one to level it up by the twenty fifth minute at five points each.

A couple of Conway frees fired Kerry two points clear in the two minutes subsequent and it really was looking ominous for Offaly. Down by two, down a man and with the breeze to come for Kerry in the second half.

Dooley won and struck a free on thirty five minutes to make it a one point score again, a brief glimmer of light for the Faithful, but a little moment of magic from Shane Conway, followed by a predator's finish from Pádraig Boyle gave Offaly something of a mountain to climb at half-time.

With Boyle's goal Kerry were four clear at the break - 1-7 to 0-6 - and certainly in the box-seat for the second half. Kerry's first half dominance looked to continue into the second half and they could have and probably should have nabbed a goal with both Jordan Conway and Pádraig Boyle being denied before Colum Harty fired over.

Had Kerry scored a goal then it would likely have been a more comfortable cruise to the finish. Fate though decreed otherwise. A mistake by Byran Murphy - who overall again was very good - was snapped up and finished to the back of the net by Dooley on thirty eight minutes. One point in it, 1-8 to 1-7, squeaky bum time.

Indeed, it remained squeaky bum time from there until the finish. Kerry's lead hovered around two points for the most part and dipped down to a single score on occasion - it was 1-11 to 1-10 after fifty two minutes - but Offaly just couldn't pull level with Kerry.

Every time they came within a score or two, Kerry were able to rally and get a few scores themselves. In response to Offaly drawing to within one on that occasion, the Kingdom hit three unanswered - two Conway frees and a Jordan Conway effort from play.

With five minutes to go Kerry's lead remained a three following yet another Conway free. Two further points by Conway and Harty - really impressive off the bench - pushed Kerry into a five point lead, 1-18 to 1-13 and seemed to suggest the day would be theirs.

Offaly though, to give them their dues, went down swinging with three unanswered - all Shane Dooley frees - to make for a most nervous finish for Kerry. They absolutely would not have deserved to lose the match, but with just a puck of a ball in it anything could have happened.

Thankfully on this occasion it didn't and Fintan O'Connor and his team could sigh a heavy sigh of relief on the full-time whistle. All the talk this week will be of Offaly, but that won't worry Kerry in the slightest. These guys know what they've done and they know what they've had to do to make sure of it.

A good day for Kerry hurling.

Kerry: John Brendan O'Halloran, James O'Connor, Bryan Murphy, Seán Weir, Tomás O'Connor, Mikey Boyle, Daniel Collins, John Buckley, Michael O'Leary, Jack Goulding (0-1), Shane Conway (0-11f), Patrick Kelly (0-1), Dan Goggin, Pádraig Boyle (1-1), Jordan Conway (0-2) Subs: Colum Harty (0-2) for D Goggin, half-time, Michael Slattery for J Goulding, 71

Offaly: Eoghan Cahill (0-2f), Niall Houlihan, Ben Conneely, Mark Egan, Damien Egan, Cillian Kiely (0-1), Eoin Parlon, Shane Kinsella, Colm Gath, Seán Cleary (0-4), Dermot Gath, Peter Geraghty, Kevin Connolly (0-1), Oisín Kelly, Shane Dooley (1-6f) Subs: Joe Bergin (0-1) for D Gath, 23, David Nally for C Gah, half-time, Tom Spain for D Egan, 42, James Gorman (0-1) for S Kinsella, 47, Seán Dolan for K Connolly, 56

Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)

The game in 60 seconds

Main man

There were a lot of fine performances from Kerry - James O'Connor was excellent at corner-back on Shane Dooley - but we've got to go with Mikey Boyle who was simply immense at centre-back for the Kingdom.

Talking Point

In as much as Kerry folk bristled at the suggestion that last Sunday was a bad day for hurling because Offaly were relegated - would it not have been had Kerry been relegated? - it's nevertheless sad to see such a storied county drop down to the third tier of inter-county hurling.

Key moment

Either or both of the sending off for Peter Geraghty or John Brendan O'Halloran's subsequent save from Shane Dooley's penalty. Those two incidents were big swings of the pendulum back to the Kingdom.