Friday 23 March 2018

McNamee stars as Offaly end nine-year wait

Offaly2-21 Longford 2-13

Longford’s Brian Kavanagh under pressure from Seán Pender of Offaly during the Leinster
SFC Round 1 game in Tullamore. Photo: Piaras O Midheach/Sportsfile
Longford’s Brian Kavanagh under pressure from Seán Pender of Offaly during the Leinster SFC Round 1 game in Tullamore. Photo: Piaras O Midheach/Sportsfile
Longford's James McGivney in action against Offaly's Peter Cunningham at O'Connor Park. Photo: Piaras O Midheach/Sportsfile
Offaly's Niall McNamee gets past Dermot Brady and Dessie Reynolds, behind, of Longford during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship. Photo: Piaras O Midheach/Sportsfile
Offaly's Eoin Carroll brushes past Longford's Michael Quinn. Photo: Piaras O Midheach/Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Offaly's nine barren years without a Leinster Championship win ended on a note of celebration at sun-blessed O'Connor Park, Tullamore yesterday, but manager Pat Flanagan will not allow his players to rest on their laurels.

Next up are Westmeath, and outside the Offaly camp, much will be made of Flanagan's past tenure as Lake County manager.

That's a talking point for supporters and media.

For Flanagan, the challenge now is to make sure his team continue their new-found victory mode with a similar result in Mullingar.

"Well I'm going to say it to the boys when I go in, what are we going to do with this win?" he said.

"We haven't thought any further than this game.

Bitter end

"Longford have been exceptionally good over the last number of years, and we knew we were going to have a very tough game right up until the bitter end.

"They scored a goal near the end there as well, and they possibly could have got in for one or two more, so they were putting pressure on us the whole time.

"We didn't really think about anything other than this game and getting a result.

"Unless we build on it, it's no good. It's pointless unless we prepare ourselves as best we possibly can, and be as good as good as we possibly can be in Mullingar."

Talisman centre-forward Niall McNamee and midfielder Niall Smith were the only two Offaly players who had featured in the county's previous Leinster win, overcoming Carlow in 2007.

McNamee rolled back the years with some impressive contributions yesterday, scoring four points, one of which came after a dazzling run past four opponents.

He spoke of relief that finally, Offaly had relieved themselves of an unwanted pressure point with that winless record.

"It's been a while coming," he said. "I'm just delighted to get it over the line.

"It's great for the Offaly supporters as well, they haven't had much to cheer about over the last couple of years.

"Just delighted to be able to give them something to cheer about, and please God we will be able to give them something to cheer about over the next couple of weeks."

Team skipper and goalkeeper Alan Mulhall atoned for a first-half mistake and made two key saves in the second half, one of them a fingertip touch of the ball onto an upright from Brian Kavanagh's 41st-minute penalty.

Offaly led by 0-3 to 0-1 six minutes into the game when a Barry McKeon shot bounced short of Mulhall.

He vainly tried to catch the ball but it went over his head into the net.

"I came for the ball. I thought it wasn't going to hop as high as it did, and it just went over my head.

"I'm not as quick to get out to it as I used to. It was a bad, bad mistake but thankfully the boys dug me out of a hole," said Mulhall.

Graham Guilfoyle's 10th-minute riposte for Offaly after a double one-two with Joey O'Connor opened his path to goal, put the home side ahead at 1-3 to 1-2.

The tone had been set early. Players from both sides tackled hard, put together intricate passing moves and kicked some great points from long range.

Longford will, however, wonder what might have been if their preparations had not been curtailed by club commitments and having only one challenge match prior to this Championship outing.

Manager Denis Connerton offered no excuses.

"Disappointed. We certainly didn't come down here to get beaten by such a large margin," he said.

"We had a good few chances, but on the day Offaly were the better team, no doubt about that."

The entertainment level was high, helped by the, at times, threadbare nature of the blanket defence in both halves of the field.

On the Offaly side, jinking runs at pace by McNamee, Guilfoyle, Bernard Allen, and later by sub Anton O'Sullivan, opened up the defensive cover.

Longford had their fast movers too, with Robbie Smith, and Barry and Paul McKeon always eager to test the Faithful County's rearguard.

Offaly's fitness and determination came to the fore once they drew level at 1-6 each with a point by Smith in the 22nd minute.

By half-time they had pushed on to 1-12, with two by Allen, two from McNamee, and one each scored by Peter Cunningham and Nigel Dunne.

Longford were stuck on 1-6 at the interval.

The visitors suffered a bad blow when Kavanagh's spot-kick was saved by Mulhall, and it looked all over when Smith scored Offaly's second goal after 56 minutes.

Johnny Moloney and Dunne quickly added points just before Smyth poached Longford's second goal in the 59th minute.

Smyth's score left his side seven points adrift at 2-17 to 2-10, and sparked another resurgence by Offaly, who powered on to dominate the closing stages.

Scorers - Offaly: N Smith 1-1, N McNamee, B Allen (2fs), N Dunne (1 '45', 1f) 0-4 each, G Guilfoyle 1-0, P Cunningham, A O'Sullivan 0-2 each, J O'Connor, E Carroll, J Moloney, M Brazil 0-1 each. Longford: R Smyth 1-5 (0-2fs), B McKeon 1-1, J McGivney 0-4, D Gallagher, M Quinn (f), CP Smyth 0-1 each.

Offaly - A Mulhall 7; S Pender 7, B Darby 7, N Darby 7; E Rigney 7, P Cunningham 8, J O'Connor 7; E Carroll 7, N Smith 7; J Moloney 7, N McNamee 8, M Brazil 7; B Allen 8, N Dunne 8, G Guilfoyle 7. Subs: A Sullivan 7 for Brazil (53), S Doyle for Allen (67), N Bracken for Dunne (68), C Donohue for B Darby (71), J Gethings for Guilfoyle (74).

Longford - P Collum 7; A Farrell 7, B Gilleran 7, D Brady 7; D Gallagher 7; B McElligott 7, B O'Farrell 7; D Masterson 7, M Quinn 6; P McKeon 7, J McGivney 7, D Reynolds 6 ; R Smyth 7, B Kavanagh 6, B McKeon 7. Subs: P McGee 6 for Farrell (h-t), M Brady 6 for P McKeon (h-t), C P Smyth 6, for Reynolds (h-t), R Connor 6 for Gallagher (53), M Hughes for Kavanagh (59), B Farrell for O'Farrell (62).

Ref - A Nolan (Wicklow)

Irish Independent

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