| 7.8°C Dublin

Shelly leads the fightback as rejuvenated Offaly rout Royals

OFFALY staged one of the comebacks of the year to send Meath tumbling to the losers' section in a dramatic opener at Pairc Tailteann.

Meath, with three of the side that started last year's All-Ireland final against Dublin, seemed to be coasting to victory after opening up a nine-point lead by the 25th minute as their dominance paid off.

They still enjoyed a 3-8 to 2-4 advantage following a Daire Rowe point on 39 minutes but failed to score again and were routed by a rejuvenated Offaly who notched 4-6 without reply in the final 20 minutes to leave the Royals shell-shocked.

The Faithful County led for the first time when full-forward Adam Shelly turned his marker and blasted to the net on 53 minutes and, by that stage, the momentum was only going in one direction.

Corner-forward Alan Geoghegan then added two points and the siege on the Meath goal continued as Shelly struck for his second goal on the stroke of 60 minutes.

Then in added time Offaly added salt to Meath's wounds with a point from substitute Gareth Byrne and a sixth goal from Geoghegan.

Livewire corner-forward Joey Wallace gave the hosts an early boost with the game's opening score, a goal on seven minutes. Wallace finished to the net after a James McEntee effort rebounded off the crossbar.

Surrendered

Rowe then fired to the net on 18 minutes having been placed by Wallace after the Offaly defence surrendered possession.

They could have had a third goal when Wallace was again the provider but Shaun Byrne's attempt was kept out by 'keeper Jason Dunne at the expense of a '45', which Niall Lyons pointed.

Offaly, who played into the stiff breeze in the opening half, threw themselves a lifeline on 26 minutes when midfielder Patrick Dunican got on the end of a delivery from Rory McNamee to flick to the net and leave it 2-6 to 1-3 at the break.

They got a further boost, courtesy of an Adam Mangan goal on 36 minutes and the goal-fest continued as James McEntee netted at the other end two minutes later.

The Meath challenge collapsed after that and Offaly took full advantage, punching holes in a porous Royal rearguard.

SCORERS – Offaly: A Shelly 2-0, A Geoghegan 1-3, P Dunican 1-2 (0-1f), J Evans 1-1, A Mangan 1-0, R McNamee 0-3, G Byrne 0-1. Meath: J Wallace 1-3, D Rowe 1-1, N Lyons 0-3 (1 '45, 1f), J McEntee 1-0, N Kane 0-1.

OFFALY – J Dunne; K Hogan, J Lawlor, M Keogh; J Hendy, D Cusack, A Heffernan; P Dunican, D Byrne; D McDonagh, A Mangan, J Evans; A Geoghegan, A Shelly, R McNamee. Subs: D Keenaghan for McDonagh (34), G Byrne for Shelly (59), C Brazil for Keogh (59).

MEATH – J O'Sullivan; T McGovern, C Bird, S Lavin; N Kane, G Harper, R O Coileain; R O'Grady, K McCabe; S Byrne, N Lyons, D McGovern; D Rowe, J McEntee, J Wallace. Subs: D Dillon for Lyons (43), K Traynor for Kane (52), D Toner for Byrne (55), A Neary for Harper (57), J McLoughlin for T McGovern (59).

REF – S Johnson (Louth)

Irish Independent