We all have to look in the mirror, admits Kelly after Offaly flop
Westmeath 2-22 Offaly 1-11
Offaly's decline as a hurling power was rubber-stamped in no uncertain terms in Mullingar when Westmeath emerged from the opening game of the round robin section with a comprehensive victory.
Despite playing against the wind in the first half, Westmeath looked by far the better team, hurling with great spirit and cohesion. They trailed by 0-2 to 0-1 after eight minutes, but a terrific goal from Derek McNicholas in the ninth minute gave them a two-point lead.
Spurred on by this, Michael Ryan's men's confidence grew with Tommy Doyle and Aonghus Clarke dominant in central defensive roles, while Eoin Price and Niall O'Brien were always to the fore further out the field.
A long-range free from O'Brien almost led to a second Westmeath goal in the 19th minute.
Substitute Cillian Kiely came closest to finding the net for Eamonn Kelly's troops, but his drilled shot went over rather than under the bar in the last minute of normal time. Westmeath were full value for their five-point interval lead, 1-9 to 0-7.
Any suspicions of a first half fluke were well and truly dispelled within five minutes of the restart during which Westmeath rattled over five unanswered points via O'Brien (two - including a free), Cormac Boyle (two from play) and Liam Varley, while Offaly's woes were epitomised by a poor effort from substitute Sean Cleary.
By the 49th minute, Westmeath were 13 points to the good (1-18 to 0-8). Offaly rallied somewhat with a close-range goal from Paddy Murphy in the 53rd minute, quickly followed by a great long-range point from Sean Ryan.
However, a hungrier Westmeath outfit were not to be denied and the outstanding Eoin Price sealed a famous victory with a great goal in the 69th minute.
Victorious manager Ryan was understandably elated after the game.
The Waterford man stated: "Full credit to the boys - they were absolutely fantastic. The attitude the last few weeks in training has been absolutely incredible and I sensed in the dressing-room before the game that this was a team ready to perform.
"They played some fantastic hurling. We put a lot of emphasis on use of the ball and thankfully a few things paid off today."
However, Ryan was not getting carried away, six days ahead of a tough second game against high-flying Kerry.
He added: "There's a huge game down in Kerry in six days' time and Kerry won well today. It's a very difficult game. Kerry are on the crest of a wave. I saw them down there playing Laois in the league play-off and they hammered them.
"We know we'll have to work really hard. Tralee is a big wide-open pitch and I think we'll be ready for the challenge."
Further down the corridor, shell-shocked Offaly manager Kelly was prepared to take the rap himself, stating: "The blame has to stop with me. Westmeath wanted it more.
"Everything seemed spot on this morning, but it was a poor performance. Westmeath were hungrier and they were more confident on the ball. Their touch looked better.
"Next Saturday is a huge game for both ourselves and Carlow. It will be difficult to pick up the guys.
"We had only one or two areas of the pitch where we won. Sean Ryan was one of those and he got injured. He got concussed and he's not going to be an option for next week.
"We all, including myself, have to look in the mirror."
Scorers - Westmeath: E Price 1-5, N O'Brien 0-7 (5fs), D McNicholas 1-2, C Boyle 0-3, L Varley 0-2, D Egerton, A Devine, D Clinton 0-1 each.
Scorers - Offaly: P Murphy 1-1, S Dooley 0-3 (3fs), S Ryan, S Kinsella, C Kiely 0-2 each, J Bergin 0-1(f).
WESTMEATH - P Maloney; S Power, T Doyle, T Gallagher; A Craig, A Clarke, G Greville; C Boyle, R Greville; A Devine, N O'Brien, E Price; L Varley, D McNicholas, D Egerton. Subs: D Clinton for Varley (60), N Mitchell for Devine (62), B Murtagh for Egerton (67), A McGrath for G Greville (inj., 69), J Galvin for Boyle (70+1)
OFFALY - J Dempsey; D Mooney, C McDonald, P Rigney; S Ryan, D Kelleher, P Camon; P Murphy, S Kinsella; C Egan, S Dooley, J Mulrooney; K Connolly, J Bergin, B Conneely. Subs: C Kiely for Mulrooney (27), S Cleary for Conneely (34), P Guinan for Dooley (h-t), D Shortt for Kelleher (52), D King for Connolly (52), K Connolly for Ryan (inj., 69).
Ref - S Cleere (Kilkenny).