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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Pat Nolan

Opportunity looms for Offaly as they eye a Leinster final

Offaly 1-11 Meath 0-10

Offaly victories over Meath have a habit of being seismic.

Albeit their Championship meetings have been few over the past couple of decades, this win bridged the gap to their last over them in 2000, the final season before the introduction of the qualifiers when Meath were the reigning All-Ireland champions, their campaign ending abruptly in the first round.

Three years before that, Offaly also beat them as Sam Maguire Cup holders to take their first Leinster title in 15 years.

READ MORE: Colm O'Rourke says Meath have no excuses as they drop into Tailteann Cup

And this Offaly victory means that Meath, joint fourth with Cork in the roll of honour, no longer even have the right to compete for the All-Ireland this year and instead are banished to the purgatory of the Tailteann Cup.

While the make-up of the competition and how it is linked to provincial series is certainly questionable, Meath ultimately can have few complaints as they carried their poor League form to Tullamore.

They started extremely poorly as Offaly went 1-4 to 0-0 in front by the 22nd minute, with the home side nine points up by half-time.

Meath got impetus from their bench in the second half, particularly through Jason Scully and Ronan Jones, who wasn’t deemed fit to start with a hamstring injury, and while they made a reasonable stab at reeling in a tiring and jittery Offaly, it never looked like it would ultimately succeed.

While the implications for Meath are sobering, it’s a significant opportunity now for Offaly, who are in a Leinster semi-final for the first time in 16 years, bidding to reach their first final since 2006 against Louth next Sunday.

Offaly’s Declan Hogan celebrates winning (©INPHO/Evan Treacy)

“It has been brewing,” said Martin Murphy, who stepped up as interim manager following Liam Kearns’s tragic passing last month.

“We had probably the best week of training this week in terms of intensity, effort, the communication between players on the field at training was savage, it was just really peak, top-class stuff.

“Myself and John [Rouse] and Alan [Flynn] came into the game really enthused by that and I know the Offaly public probably wouldn't have overly expected us to go out and win that game as comfortably today but we knew coming into the game that we had a serious chance of winning and the players believed in themselves.

“That's where we are now. We're going to Croke Park on Sunday and we're looking forward to it.”

With Nigel Dunne hitting three of the first four points and Dylan Hyland adding another from a free, Offaly moved out of sight with Rory Egan’s 22nd minute goal.

A wasteful and feeble Meath, with four Championship debutants in their starting team, finally got off the mark through Mathew Costello a minute later but Offaly pushed further ahead, taking a commanding 1-8 to 0-2 lead to the dressing room.

A Meath spurt inevitably came but Offaly kept them at arm’s reach, with sub Bernard Allen pointing immediately on his introduction to push them 1-10 to 0-6 clear in the 50th minute, though they wilted from there on in increasingly difficult conditions.

Cillian O’Sullivan blazed over for Meath when a goal was on shortly after and, beyond that, the goal they needed to spark a meaningful comeback never looked like it would come.

Ruairi McNamee steadied Offaly with a 64th minute point and they hung on grimly from there despite Jones’s notable impact coming down the stretch.

Offaly's Declan Hogan with Diarmaid Moriarty of Meath (©INPHO/Evan Treacy)

“It took us until the last 15 minutes to get the bite and to start to get turnovers around the middle of the field,” said Meath boss Colm O’Rourke.

“We really did get stuck in at that time and the first half was very, very disappointing from that regard.

“It was sort of a non-physical game for most of the first half as far as we were concerned and it’s something that we had referenced on many occasions but in fairness to the lads, in the second half they did change things, turned it around and really got stuck into the game so there’s a lot of good points, a lot of young players that I still have a lot of confidence in.”

On the Offaly side, Murphy was wholesome in his praise for Peter Cunningham, who landed back in the country from his honeymoon Italy on Saturday morning and slotted in at centre-back.

“It's savage and you have to thank the county board for looking after things there and getting him back. Peter has been a mainstay of the team throughout the year, he's been one of the leaders in the dressing room and on the field so it was important that we had him back today.”

But Murphy’s last word was for Liam Kearns.

“We never play a big game without mentioning Liam and the targets and goals that he set for us, where we were when he left us, he knew that there was more in this team and that we needed to build on it and that's what we have been doing.”

OFFALY: Ian DUFFY 7; Declan HOGAN 8, Lee PEARSON 7, David DEMPSEY 7; Rory EGAN (1-1) 8, Peter CUNNINGHAM 7, Ciaran DONNELLY 6; Jack McEVOY 8, Conor McNAMEE 7; Dylan HYLAND (0-2, 0-1f) 7, Ruairi McNAMEE (0-2) 8, Jamie EVANS 6; Cian FARRELL 6, Nigel DUNNE (0-4, 0-1f, 0-1 ‘45’) 7, Anton SULLIVAN (0-1) 7.

Subs: Cian Donohoe for Egan (HT), Bernard Allen (0-1) for Farrell (50), Joe Maher for Evans (57), Bill Carroll for Conor McNamee (60), Shane Tierney for Allen (60).

MEATH: Harry HOGAN 6; Adam O’NEILL 6, Ronan RYAN 6, Michael FLOOD 5; Donal KEOGAN 6, Padraic HARNAN 6, Sean COFFEY 6; Daithi McGOWAN 5, Jack FLYNN 6; Cillian O’SULLIVAN (0-1) 6, Mathew COSTELLO (0-3, 0-2f) 7, Cathal HICKEY 5; Jordan MORRIS 6, Keith CURTIS 5, Donal LENIHAN (0-1) 6.

Subs: Jack O’Connor (0-1) for Hickey (HT), Harry O’Higgins for Flood (HT), Jason Scully (0-2) for McGowan (HT), Ronan Jones (0-2) for Lenihan (55), Diarmuid Moriarty for Curtis (58).

REFEREE: Seamus Mulhare (Laois).


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