Sport Gaelic Football

Tuesday 23 January 2018

McDonnell lauds Offaly young guns despite loss

Wexford 0-16 Offaly 0-13

Offaly's Niall Smith in action against Brian Malone of Wexford during the O'Byrne Cup Game in Tullamore
Offaly's Niall Smith in action against Brian Malone of Wexford during the O'Byrne Cup Game in Tullamore
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

WEXFORD did all that was needed in Tullamore, but it still wasn't enough to make the O'Byrne Cup semi-finals.

Despite a win that was more comprehensive than the scoreline suggests, it was their midweek slip-up to UCD that cost the Slaneysiders their chance of a useful early-season crack at Kildare who are now managed by their former boss Jason Ryan.

But this win may still have some resonance as not only could these two sides meet in Leinster next summer, but they are also lined up to meet in the first round of the Allianz League in three weeks' time.

When Offaly trailed by 0-11 to 0-5 at half-time and then by 0-16 to 0-8 before the hour, you couldn't help wondering what sort of a mauling they might face on their return to Division 3 at Wexford Park.

That they managed to save face with a decent last quarter gave manager Emmet McDonnell some cause for optimism.

But it should be stressed that Wexford lost top scorer Kevin O'Grady to an ankle injury soon after the restart and Offaly were significantly aided by the booming wind in that second half.

PROMOTION

McDonnell was forthright in his assessment of his young team who won promotion last season in his first year in charge.

"I know everyone already has us favourites to be relegated from Division 3, but I'm really happy with the progress and the work rate," he said.

"We had a very young team out there again today and work needs to be done on the decision-making and shot selection, but we've blooded a lot of players and the work rate and effort over the past year is exactly what we hoped for. It's just a case of refining things now."

One of the Offaly newcomers to impress was Ferbane teenager Joe Maher.

He still has two seasons left in the U-21 ranks and bagged 0-3 from play, including the follow-up he scored off the great save that former Wexford forward Shane Roche was forced to make off Niall Geraghty in the late stages.

Two recent Offaly returnees, Nigel Dunne and Niall Smith, also impressed when they got the bit between their teeth.

Dunne, who plays his club football with St Sylvesters in Dublin, did particularly well on the frees and Smith's fielding was excellent at times, even if his subsequent distribution often let him down.

But Offaly were cleaned out badly in midfield for most of the game and had nothing of the fluency or neat build-up play that Wexford showed, even though the visitors were a bit understrength themselves.

Wexford started without Daithi Waters, yet Paddy Byrne and Cillian Kehoe still dominated the kick-outs, and with James Breen out, the versatile Michael Furlong started at centre-back.

Niall Darby kept Ciaran Lyng to just a point and Ben Brosnan didn't really get into the game until the second half but, once again, O'Grady (St James), impressed, both from frees and from play and five of their starting forwards scored.

Colm Kehoe, another of their Leinster-winning U-21s from 2011, was very industrious, as were Brian Malone and Tiernan Rossiter, but midfielder Byrne was their star man, driving them on repeatedly from centre-field.

They should really have been much further ahead at half-time, shooting nine wides on a day that the wind was sometimes as much a hindrance as a help.

But given the conditions a lapse of concentration was inevitable in the late stages and Niall McNamee almost got in for a late goal in the dying minutes.

Offaly's physical profile means they never thrive in these conditions and yesterday underlined again that they will have to up their game considerably to survive in Division 3.

They have Anton Sullivan and Brian Darby to come back in, but both are still rebuilding their fitness after injury, so their comebacks are not imminent.

Only one yellow (for Offaly's Johnny Brickland) and one black card was shown in the game, but the Faithful fell victim to the new rules in an unusual way. They were forced to finish the game with 14 men as they had used up all six subs before centre-back Michael Brazil picked up a black card in the 73rd minute.

Scorers -- Wexford: K O'Grady 0-7 (5fs), B Brosnan 0-4 (2fs), Colm Kehoe 0-2, C Lyng, J Holmes, Cillian Kehoe 0-1 each. Offaly: N Dunne 0-5 (3fs), J Maher 0-3, N McNamee 0-2, M Brazil, R Allen, K Casey 0-1 each.

Wexford -- S Roche; S Gaul, G Molloy, C Carty; B Malone, M Furlong, T Rossiter; Cillian Kehoe, P Byrne; Colm Kehoe, G Cullen, B Brosnan; C Lynch, J Holmes, K O'Grady. Subs: PJ Banville for O'Grady (inj, 39), B O'Gorman for Cullen (50), R Dempsey for Lyng (63), K Day for Holmes (70).

Offaly -- A Mulhall; D Brady, P McConway, D Corbett; S Delaney, M Brazil, N Darby; J Brickland, R Allen; G Guilfoyle, N Dunne, N Smith; K Casey, J Maloney, N McNamee. Subs: J O'Connor for Corbett (h-t), J Maher for Delaney (h-t), L Kelly for Guilfoyle (57), N Geraghty for Casey (62), J Devery for Brickland (66), D Kelly for Smith (69).*All subs used by time Brazil got black card (73).

REF -- D Fahy(Longford)

Irish Independent

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