All-Ireland champions Galway put Offaly to the sword as new Leinster round robin format begins
LEINSTER SHC ROUND ROBIN
GALWAY 5-18 OFFALY 2-15
A STRANGE start to our all-new Leinster senior hurling championship in Tullamore this evening.
Galway matched the 12-point handicap – eventually – without ever hurling with the conviction that you'd associate with All-Ireland champions.
Then again, this being the first of four round-robin encounters with the bar set to rise considerably from here on, Micheál Donoghue will probably be happy to take the points and move on, mission accomplished.
A few other unusual facets to this O'Connor Park opener watched by 8,300 spectators.
Offaly matched Galway throughout the first half and yet trailed by five at the midpoint.
Their 'keeper, Eoghan Cahill, was a 'Man of the Match' contender with a series of saves, mostly to deny Joe Canning - and yet conceded five goals.
Which brings us to another unusual statistic: Galway have now more than doubled their 2017 goals-scored column, having found the net just twice in their opening Leinster clash against Dublin last summer.
Offaly can take plenty of heart from their first half performance, they showed flickers of defiance in defence and Shane Dooley finished as the game's top scorer with 1-9 … and still they ended on the wrong end of a double-digit defeat.
For most of the first half, the hosts made Galway look a pallid imitation of their All-Ireland selves.
Playing into a relatively gentle breeze, they struck first through an early Dooley free before Galway enjoyed their best spell of the half.
A clever crossfield pass from championship debutant Brian Concannon teed up Conor Cooney for the equaliser before the roles were reversed for a fifth minute goal. This time Cooney made all the inroads, leaving Seán Gardiner trailing in his wake; his 20m piledriver struck the upright but the inrushing Concannon was in the right place to bundle home the rebound.
Concannon added a point soon after, and it was still a four-point game when Galway should have struck for goal number two. But, from almost point blank range, Conor Whelan hit the post and though he was fouled in the follow-up, Canning's 11th minute penalty, lacking real conviction, was saved by Eoghan Cahill.
Offaly came virtually straight down the field to make it a six-point turnaround, Oisín Kelly's inch-perfect handpass giving Dooley the opportunity to bury the chance.
The Faithful then achieved parity through a Dooley free, and it remained nip-and-tuck almost to the half-time bell.
Offaly were increasingly sticky in defence and winning the midfield battle, the puckout stats and free count. Concannon apart, Joseph Cooney was the only Galway forward making headway.
But then the visitors came with a late burst to establish a 2-9 to 1-7 half-time lead. Joe Canning, peripheral in open play, opened his account with a brace of frees.
The lively Dooley replied with a point from play, but then Joseph Cooney brought his first half haul to 1-4 from play with a goal on 34 minutes, feeding off Whelan's assist for a low angled finish. Cathal Mannion completed the scoring to give them a scarcely deserved five-point cushion.
Canning was far more involved on the restart, while David Burke (with a meaty clearance) and Whelan (with a soaring 44th minute catch, incisive run and selfless pass) combined for Concannon to bury his second goal in razor-sharp fashion.
That left Galway nine clear, but a mini-Offaly fightback was crowned by a Joe Bergin goal on 46 minutes. Daniel Currams made it a five-point game soon after, but then Galway eased up through the gears with the next 1-3.
Fittingly it was Whelan, so prominent as a creator, who finally got on the scoresheet with a goal on the hour after a wonderfully penetrating run by Cathal Mannion.
Thereafter, the game meandered to a preditable conclusion, with Canning landing his first point from play before his late substitution. Their fifth goal arrived on 72 minutes, Niall Burke releasing fellow sub Jason Flynn for an emphatic finish.
SCORERS - Galway: J Canning 0-8 (6f, 1 '65'), J Cooney 1-4, B Concannon 2-1, C Whelan 1-1, J Flynn 1-0, C Cooney 0-2, C Mannion, S Loftus 0-1 each. Offaly: S Dooley 1-9 (8f), J Bergin 1-1, D King 0-2, D Currams, E Cahill (f), S Kinsella 0-1 each.
GALWAY: J Skehill; A Tuohey, Daithí Burke, J Hanbury; P Mannion, G McInerney, A Harte; J Coen, David Burke; J Canning, C Mannion, J Cooney; C Whelan, C Cooney, B Concannon.
Subs: S Loftus for Coen (58), J Flynn for C Cooney (58), N Burke for C Mannion (63), R Burke for Harte (65), J Glynn for Canning (67).
OFFALY: E Cahill; T Spain, S Gardiner, B Conneely; D Egan, P Camon, B Murphy; D King, S Kinsella; C Mahon, D Currams, C Egan; O Kelly, J Bergin, S Dooley.
Subs: C Kiely for Mahon (52), S Ryan for Murphy (58), P Murphy for C Egan (61), T Geraghty for Currams (62), P Rigney for Spain (68).
REF: J Murphy (Limerick).