Offaly 2-20 Antrim 1-15
11th June 2018
Offaly 2-20 Antrim 1-15
Report via #TheSaffronGael
For the opening thirty minutes of this qualifier against Offaly in O’Connor Park in Tullamore on Saturday Antrim looked well on course for victory over the home side who took quite a time to settle. However an injury to their most influential player, Conor Murray, midway through the half seemed to take the sting out of Antrim’s challenge and it was Offaly who scored the last three points of the half to lead by three at the break.
Antrim manger, Lenny Harbison was forced into change before throw in with Niall McKeever unable to start and Kristian Healey came into the starting line-up with Murray moving to mid-field to partner Paddy McAleer.
The switch certainly paid early dividends for the visitors with debutant keeper, Andrew Hasson finding the Lamh Dhearg man with his kick-outs time and again and Murray fielding or breaking the ball to his colleagues.
The Hannastown man had been a strong influence and his surging runs forward provided the openings for a number of Antrim’s early scores but it was during one of these runs that he fell heavily after a challenge from Michael Brazil and despite lengthy treatment was unable to continue.
His replacement, Stephen Beatty got his name on the score sheet shortly after his introduction but the Murray influence was badly missed and slowly the O’Connor Park side started to take control outscoring their opponents 0-6 to 0-1 in the closing 10 minutes of the half to take a three-point lead into the break.
McBride put Antrim two ahead with another two points before Murray’s evening came to an end when he had to be stretchered off the field with a serious-looking knee injury.
That seemed to unnerve Antrim as Offaly took command of the game and Peter Healy was forced to make a remarkable last-ditch clearance to deny midfielder John Moloney a certain goal towards the end of the half.
Antrim were struck another blow when their captain, Kevin O’Boyle limped off to be replaced by Niall McKeever leading up to the break and the wheels were already starting to come off the wagon.
Offaly finished the half on the ascendancy however and hit four unanswered points to take a 0-11 to 0-8 lead into the break and it was already looking like the writing was on the wall for Antrim.
The small band of Antrim supporters who had made the long journey to Tullamore must have been hoping for a response from their side after the break but although they continued to battle in truth they never really looked like getting back into the game.
Antrim’s attacks lacked variety and imagination and they were repeatedly turned over by a well-drilled Offaly defence who continued to grow in confidence as the half went on.
Their ploy of hitting long diagonal balls into their forward line to bypass Antrim’s sweeper system often stretched the Saffron defence and when their opening goal came there was a sense of inevitability about it.
Bernard Allen played a neat one-two with corner-back Brian Darby before rifling a shot into the roof of Andrew Hasson’s net on 50 minutes to move Offaly 1-15 to 0-11 clear.
Despite losing Nigel Dunne to a straight Red, minutes earlier the faithful County were now in complete control and added an injury time goal through substitute Jimmy Evans.
Antrim did manage a response with a consolation goal from one of their substitutes, James Smith with the St. Brigid’s man’s major bringing only a muted response from the Saffron support.
Indeed with the game now beyond reach Antrim emptied their bench giving game time to a number of players with Michael McCarry weighing in with a fine point but like Smith’s goal this score was very much a consolation score.
Offaly were full value for their win and the problems I touched on in my preview leading into this game seems to have galvanised them and as the game progressed so they grew in confidence and stature.
Paul Rouse, who stepped into the breach after Stephen Wallace was sacked following Offaly’s defeat to Wicklow, was full of praise for his charges after the game. “Those players deserve absolutely everything that they got today,” said Rouse.
They were cheered all the way by an enthusiastic Offaly support and put the disappointment of last week’s defeat to Wicklow behind them to resurrect their season and earn a place in Monday’s next round draw.
Antrim manger, Lenny Harbison conceded that Offaly were the better team on the day but lamented the loss of Conor Murray who was spearheading the Antrim effort at the time of his injury.
Murray’s injury was a cruel blow and a few Antrim heads seemed to go down after that. Andrew Hasson couldn’t be faulted for either of the Offaly goals. He made one great blocking save late in the game and his kicking was good throughout.
Patrick Gallagher, Niall Delargy and James Laverty battled hard in defence while Paddy McBride, Colm Duffin and substitute Stephen Beatty gave their all in attack.
OFFALY: A Mulhall (0-2, 0-2fs); B Darby (0-1), J Lawlor, S Pender; D Hogan, P McConway, N Darby (0-1); M Brazil (0-1), J Moloney (0-4, 0-1f); C Donohue (0-1), S Nally (0-1), C McNamee (0-1; N Dunne (0-3), A Sullivan (0-1), B Allen (1-2, 0-1f).
Subs: R McNamee for Nally (44mins), J Evans (1-0) for Donohue (58mins), S Tierney (0-2, 0-1f) for Allen (64mins), D Dempsey for Hogan (66mins), J Hayes for Sullivan (68mins), E Carroll for Moloney (72mins).
ANTRIM: A Hasson; P Healy, P Gallagher, N Delargy; K O’Boyle, M Sweeney, J Laverty; P McAleer (0-1), C Murray; P McBride (0-6, 0-3fs), M Fitzpatrick, R McCann; K Healy (0-1), R Murray (0-2, 0-1f), C Duffin (0-2).
Subs: S Beatty (0-2) for C Murray (22mins), N McKeever for O’Boyle (28mins), M McCarry (0-1 for McKeever (53mins), J Smith (1-0) for McCann (54mins), O Eastwoof for K Healy (58mins), P Branagan for Laverty (61mins).
REFEREE: M McNally (Monaghan)