Friday 24 November 2017

Offaly prove Kilkenny can be tested but Cody's men march on


Offaly’s David Kenny finds his
path blocked by Kilkenny’s Colin
Offaly’s David Kenny finds his path blocked by Kilkenny’s Colin Fennelly.
Richie Power attempts to get away from the challenge of Derek Molloy
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Tullamore in the golden shimmer of this strange June sauna and a glorious oddity of a game, bookended with Offaly goals, yet franked again by Kilkenny's habitual mastery of their neighbours.

Tullamore in the golden shimmer of this strange June sauna and a glorious oddity of a game, bookended with Offaly goals, yet franked again by Kilkenny's habitual mastery of their neighbours.

Offaly have yet to beat Kilkenny in the championship on Brian Cody's watch and, though they tossed the odd sink and cistern here, there was never a compelling sense they had history in their fingers. Still they beat the handicap handsomely and, in firing four goals past Kilkenny's rearguard, they perhaps opened the minds of some who were already writing the season down as just another stripey coronation.

Nothing had been expected of Ollie Baker and his men, with former star Johnny Pilkington proposing on radio minutes before throw-in that "today isn't going to be nice!"

Pilkington's, to be fair, was the popular view and Offaly came out with the energy of men who maybe felt belittled by it.

Just 41 seconds had elapsed when Joe Bergin's effort came back off a post, Colin Egan reacting brilliantly to swoop and blaze home a sublime finish before the Kilkenny defence had time to panic.

For neutrals, the goal was Heaven-sent.

Suddenly, O'Connor Park was alive with the giddiness of hope and it seemed to roll down off the terraces and stand into the minds of those in tricolored jerseys on the field. Because Offaly now had instant dander and, though Kilkenny responded with a pocket of three points in the next four minutes, there was a palpable sense that they might have neglected to padlock their defensive gates.

Egan and Bergin were causing consternation on the inside line especially and when, 13 minutes in, the latter gathered from James Dempsey's puck-out to fire a high, majestic finish past Eoin Murphy from 25 yards, you knew this game was destined to follow an eccentric flight-path.

Eighteen minutes in, Offaly led 2-4 to 0-5, albeit they could consider themselves a mite fortunate that wing-back Cathal Parlon had not been sidelined for a 12th-minute chop on TJ Reid when already on a yellow card.

Kilkenny seemed unable to wrestle any gain at midfield or half-forward and, save a surging fifth-minute Richie Power run that should have set up Colin Fennelly for a goal, they were unable to summon any threat to Dempsey's net. Offaly's backs were compressing space, so much so that Kilkenny would get to half-time with just 0-3 from play.

They were leaning unreasonably on Eoin Larkin's free-taking then simply to stay in touch with a team that they were popularly quoted at 1/12 to beat.

As Reid would later surmise, their difficulty was – essentially – a lack of knowledge. "We didn't see Offaly play during the year because they were in Division 1B, so we didn't know what to expect," explained TJ. "We played them in 2008 in Portlaoise and they gave us an almighty first half as well so we knew they were going to be tough opponents."

Offaly led 2-6 to 0-11 at the break, yet trailed by four within six minutes of the resumption. Cody insisted after that he'd had little to say in the dressing room, yet his team resumed with all the signs of chastened people. Suddenly, they were scoring with their trademark economy, Richie Hogan and Richie Power both now running profitable holes through the Offaly half-backs.

With a stiff wind now in their faces, the midlanders had withdrawn Egan to the half-forward line and, if they still carried a threat through Bergin inside, there was frustration at Shane Dooley's inability to have an impact from play, especially given his marker Jackie Tyrrell's departure with a quad injury while the game was still in its infancy.

That said, it should be recognised that Tyrrell's replacement – Conor Fogarty – had an outstanding game.

Kilkenny's half-backs, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan and Kieran Joyce, were now dominating, both Walsh and Hogan hitting spectacular scores as Cody's men eased a commanding nine points clear (0-22 to 2-7) with just 10 minutes remaining.

But then Egan scored a fine Offaly point and the eccentricity returned when Bergin's mis-hit delivery broke away from a copse of Kilkenny defenders to substitute Dan Currams who goaled at the second attempt.

Suddenly, shouts of "Offaly, Offaly" rang around the picture-postcard ground, albeit little of the din could have been dusted with genuine conviction that a lynching was still possible.

Richie Hogan, Power, Matthew Ruth and Walter Walsh duly rattled over four unanswered Kilkenny points to end the silliness.

But then, at the death, a Brian Carroll delivery fell short in the Kilkenny square and, would you believe it, Bergin got the touch for a fourth Offaly goal.

In Cody's 15 years at the helm, you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times Kilkenny's goal has taken that kind of punishment.

So, on a night that sent great rivals Tipperary off on the scenic route in this championship, he will have despatched his men home with the message they still have much work to do.

Just as he likes it while the evenings lengthen.

SCORERS – Kilkenny: E Larkin 0-11 (10fs, 1 '65'), R Power 0-4 (1f), R Hogan 0-3, T Walsh, B Hogan, L Ryan, TJ Reid, C Fennelly, A Fogarty, W Walsh, M Ruth 0-1 each. Offaly: J Bergin 2-0, C Egan 1-2, S Dooley 0-5 (4fs, 1 '65'), D Currams 1-0, C McDonald, B Carroll 0-1 each.

KILKENNY – E Murphy 6; P Murphy 7, JJ Delaney 6, J Tyrrell (not on long enough); T Walsh 8, B Hogan 9, K Joyce 8; L Ryan 7, M Rice 7; TJ Reid 7, R Power 7, E Larkin 7; C Fennelly 6, R Hogan 8, A Fogarty 6. Subs: C Fogarty 8 for Tyrrell (6), W Walsh 6 for A Fogarty (34), C Buckley 6 for Reid (57), M Ruth 6 for Larkin (57), P Hogan 6 for Rice (59).

OFFALY – J Dempsey 7; C McDonald 8, D Kenny 8, D Mooney 7; R Hanniffy 7, G Healion 7, C Parlon 7; K Brady 6, B Carroll 7; C Slevin 5, C Mahon 5, S Cleary 5; S Dooley 6, C Egan 7, J Bergin 7. Subs: D Currams 7 for Cleary (h-t), D Molloy 6 for Mahon (43), T Carroll 6 for Slevin (51), S Ryan 6 for Brady (51).

Ref – A Kelly (Galway)

Irish Independent

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