Whelahan relief after Offaly stave off 'disaster'
Offaly 3-19 Kerry 0-14 (NHL Div 1B Relegation Play-off)
You got the feeling that Brian Whelahan would have loved to have a hurley in his hand for long periods of this crucial game.
For the first quarter, he prowled the sidelines in an effort to lift his side from their anxiety-stricken slumber as Kerry raced clear. In front of just 660 supporters, he was the audible force in the cavernous ground encouraging his side to raise their efforts.
It was only after his full-forward Sean Cleary was red-carded 10 minutes into the second half that his side began to comprehend his concern.
Offaly were very close to dropping to the third tier.
The early panic dissipated when Joe Bergin goaled just before the break, but Offaly still needed Stephen Quirke's two final-quarter goals to fully shake off this skilful Kerry side.
The final whistle brought a huge sigh of relief from Offaly manager Whelahan; his first season at the helm hadn't ended in total disaster.
"We were at sixes and sevens – I think we hurled with a fair bit of fear and anxiety about us in the first 15 minutes," he said.
"Yeah, we firmly believe we were the better team coming into today but our confidence had taken quite a beating.
"The defeat to Antrim hit the squad very hard and to try and get the confidence up and to get lads playing the way we know they can play was tough."
With Shane Nolan at the heart of all their creative work, Kerry raced into a 0-7 to no score lead after nine minutes. But after Cleary and Brian Carroll got Offaly up and running, they gradually worked their way into the game.
Bergin's goal two minutes before the break pushed them ahead and they never trailed afterwards, but Kerry manager Eamonn Kelly was delighted with the spirit his side displayed.
"We are disappointed with the scoreline in the finish, we'd like to have kept it a bit more respectable," he said. "Offaly, all credit to them... we got a good start on them but they showed their experience.
"We started well but we set up with seven backs to try and give us a chance that they wouldn't get a run on us. That worked, but it backfired on us too, the lads got a bit tired."
Kelly was correct. Offaly's experience of the big stage paid off in the end, but they now face a huge step up in class, going from a relegation play-off with Kerry to a Leinster championship clash against Kilkenny in 11 weeks' time.
"It would have been a disaster if the result had gone the other way, to try and get lads thinking about Kilkenny, let alone going down to play them," said Whelahan.
"We probably shouldn't be getting the second chance.
"Kerry should be up and I make no bones about that. But we didn't make the rules coming into the league and I'm very grateful of that second chance."
Scorers - Offaly: S Quirke 2-1, J Bergin 1-1, B Carroll 0-8 (5fs), C Mahon, S Dooley 0-2 each, C Egan, K Connolly, D Currams, S Cleary, T Geraghty 0-1 each. Kerry: S Nolan 0-8 (3fs, 1 '65'), C Harty 0-2, D O'Connell, B O'Leary, P Boyle, B Brosnan 0-1 each.
Offaly – Conor Slevin 6; N Wynne 6, G Healion 7, J Rigney 6; B Harding 6, C Egan 8, C Parlon 7; K Connolly 8, Ciaran Slevin 8; B Carroll 9, D Currams 7, C Mahon 7; S Quirke 8, S Cleary 5, J Bergin 7. Subs: P Geraghty 7 for Ciaran Slevin (29), C McDonald 7 for Healion (50), S Dooley 7 (0-2) for Bergin (51), T Geraghty 7 for Quirke (65), K Brady for Connolly(70).
Kerry – T Flynn 8; B Murphy 7, T Murnane 8, T Casey 8; S Weir 7, D Dinneen 6, D O'Connell 7; J Griffin 7, C Harty 7; B O'Leary 7, D Collins 8, S Nolan 9; K Carmody 6, P Boyle 7, J Egan 6.
Subs: B Brosnan 7 for Carmody (28), P O'Connor 7 for Brosnan (51), J Leahy 6 for O'Leary (54), P Lucid 6 for Boyle (63).
Ref – J Ryan (Tipperary)