Shane Dooley has the last laugh as Offaly's late comeback floors Westmeath
SHANE DOOLEY once again proved the Offaly hero bagging 3-8 as the Faithful came from behind to see off stubborn Westmeath resistance in a titanic Leinster SHC quarter-final clash in TEG Cusack Park tonight.
After last year's 14-point mauling at the hands of the Lake men, another upset looked in store as Westmeath led 0-12 to 1-4 at the break, and 0-18 to 1-13 after 63 minutes, but the Faithful sharpshooter delivered in spades when the chips were down.
The Tullamore attacker fired 2-1 in the last four minutes, both goals after scrambles in a shaky Westmeath defence, to seal an unlikely comeback for Kevin Ryan's men and book their place in the last four, and avoid slipping back in the Leinster round-robin stages next year.
Allan Devine, unerring from frees throughout, got the home side off the mark with a free after 50 seconds but Dooley responded before Devine fired over another placed ball in the opening minutes
Dooley then made a nuisance of himself under a high delivery from Shane Kinsella and Westmeath goalkeeper Paddy Maloney needlessly barrelled through him, giving a way a penalty which the he duly dispatched.
The Lake men responded brilliantly, however, with Devine hitting a brace before losing defender Tommy Gallagher, who stopped two early goals with vital interventions, to a serious knee injury.
Niall O’Brien and Pádraic Guinan traded scores midway through the half before another Devine free was cancelled out by Oisín Kelly and Dooley put the Faithful ahead, 1-4 to 0-6, on 26 minutes.
Offaly were cutting the Westmeath defence to pieces but not getting an end product and Dooley spurned a good goal chance, their last meaningful attack of the half, as Westmeath kicked ahead with six unanswered points before the break.
With a dominant half-back line of Aaron Craig, Paul Greville and Shane Power on top in the aerial battle, and Aonghus Clarke influential at midfield, they kicked on through points from sub Darragh Egerton and Joey Boyle.
Westmeath were wasteful with seven first-half wides but Clarke opened his account before points from Robbie Greville, Joey Boyle and an exquisite O’Brien sideline cut left them five ahead at half-time, full value for their 0-12 to 1-4 lead.
Joe Bergin and Paddy Murphy were sprung from the bench at half-time and had the desired effect for Offaly, who looked a different side upon the resumption as Dooley (free) and Killian Doyle traded points.
The visitors took charge for the next 10 minutes with Dooley hitting his first from play, quickly followed by a free, and points from Kelly and Emmett Nolan to leave just one in it, 1-9 to 0-13 on 46 minutes.
Doyle broke the Offaly resistance with a super point from distance before Kelly kicked wide with the goal at his mercy after being played through by Bergin. At the other end, Devine stretched the gap to three and Michael Ryan held the advantage in the sideline battle between two Waterford natives.
Points from Dooley, Bergin and sub Liam Langton drew Offaly level but two Devine frees had them back ahead on the hour mark, 0-17 to 1-12.
Dooley and Boyle swapped scores but the real drama was only beginning to unfold as the game took on a different life in the last ten minutes. Emmett Nolan put Offaly ahead with a brilliant individual goal after surging through the Westmeath and firing a rasper past Maloney.
It was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, but not without high drama, and outstanding full-back Dermott Shortt hit an inspirational point and the result looked assured when Dooley followed up with their third goal, reacting quickest in a goal mouth scramble in the 70th minute.
But Westmeath kept fighting and a Devine free, followed by a ’65, left a score in it before Doyle miraculously fired past Offaly net minder James Dempsey from an impossible angle, to somehow tie the game with time almost up, 3-14 to 1-20.
Dooley would have the last laugh, however, and the Offaly poacher pounced on a blunder from Maloney to tap the ball to the net and then put the seal on a thrilling Midlands derby with a beautiful point when falling to the ground to set up a semi-final date with the winners of Dublin/Galway.
SCORERS – Offaly: S Dooley 3-8 (1-0 pen, 5f), E Nolan 1-1, O Kelly 0-2, P Guinan, J Bergin, L Langton & D Shortt 0-1 each.
Westmeath: A Devine 0-10 (8f, 0-1 ’65), K Doyle 1-2, J Boyle 0-3, N O’Brien 0-2 (0-1 sideline), R Greville, A Clarke, D Egerton 0-1 each.
OFFALY – J Dempsey; B Conneely, D Shortt, E Grogan; S Gardiner, A Treacy, D King; S Ryan, P Guinan; O Kelly, S Kinsella, E Nolan; S Cleary, S Dooley, P Geraghty. Subs: J Bergin for Geraghty and P Murphy for Treacy (both half time), L Langton for Kinsella (48), S Quirke for Cleary (51), C Kiely for Guinan (58)
WESTMEATH – P Maloney; S Power, T Doyle, T Gallagher; A Craig, P Greville, C Shaw; A Clarke, G Greville; C Boyle, K Doyle, J Boyle; R Greville, N O’Brien, A Devine. Subs: D Egerton for Gallagher inj (16), J Galvin for O’Brien (38 BS), O’Brien for Galvin (41), Galvin for Power int (62), B Murtagh for O’Brien (66).
REF – S Cleere (Kilkenny)