Powerful work ethic tells the tale as Offaly grind out crucial win

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kevin@tullamoretribune.ie

Electric Ireland Leinster Minor Football Championship Group 2 Round 1

Kevin Corrigan

Offaly 1-10

Wexford 1-9

A REAL backs to the wall exercise saw Offaly grind out a crucial win in the Leinster Minor Football Championship in Enniscorthy on Tuesday night.

In a performance that had a bit of everything for Offaly, they showed great character to get a result that was of the utmost importance. With Meath and Dublin in the same group, this was a must win game for Offaly and they had to fight with absolutely everything they had to get across the line.

It was a close run thing and it could very easily have went up in smoke for Offaly. They were the better side on the evening and they deserved to win but they missed a lot of chances, conceded a sloppy early goal that left them with an early mountain to climb and probably over played the ball a bit at times.

Overall, however, it was a pleasing performance by Offaly. They had endured some poor results in preparation games but in the white heat of championship fare, they showed a great appetite for battle. Their work ethic was tremendous and their tackling, their ability to close down players, force errors or get in decisive hands without fouling was a big factor in this win.

Late on, it was heart attack stuff for Offaly as Wexford threw everything bar the kitchen sink at them. Leading by three points, 1-10 to 1-7, as the game drifted into injury time, Offaly were forced on to the back foot. Jack O'Leary pointed a free for Wexford and the home side exerted ferocious pressure as they launched attack after attack.

Six minutes of injury time was played and Rory O'Connor cut it to the minimum with a punched point in the 65th minute. The final whistle went less than a minute later as a very relieved Offaly side held out – they played most of injury time with fourteen men as Lee Pearson got a second yellow card in the 60th minute. They had defended resolutely in those nerve tingling closing minutes as Wexford tried to manufacture a match saving goal. Some of the defending was in the “hail Mary” category but Offaly got the numbers back, put their bodies on the line and did what they had to.

It was a very exciting end to an compelling game of football. It was by no means brilliant and there was plenty of mediocre football but the commitment of both sides was sufficient to keep supporters rooted to the spot. The game was in the balance throughout, which also added to the enjoyment and the honesty on display was refreshing.

You had two teams giving their all with what they had and the result was a right ding dong battle. Offaly were completely honest in everything they did. Not everything worked out and there were mistakes made, there is loads of room for improvement but Offaly were always trying to do the right thing, they were always working hard and these are the reasons they won.

There were times Offaly's football was frustrating to observe, especially for a first half spell when there was an abundance of passes going sidewards or backwards but they also attacked very well at times, took on opponents at pace and allowed their natural flair to surface.

It was all about the result and this young Offaly team should be proud of the way they performed here. They could have won by more: their best forward Morgan Tynan had an off day from frees, missing three very scoreable ones before Cormac Delaney took over and hit the target with some brilliant and extraordinary kicks off the ground – the inordinate length of time he took over each kick won the displeasure of the Wexford contingent and was a factor in so much injury time being played, while he was fortunate that the referee didn't opt to throw the ball up on a couple of occasions. Delaney, however, was a match winner for Offaly, scoring 1-4 with his goal coming from a penalty and the points all from frees.

Other chances went abegging in general play and Offaly had enough opportunities and possession to have won by four or five points.

Yet the early omens did not look promising for an Offaly win. The opening exchanges were tentative and nervous before Wexford got off the mark with a Jack O'Leary goal after Offaly full back Fionn Dempsey knocked the ball down into his path. Wexford's attacking tactics were obvious from the start as they kicked long direct ball in to the physically imposing O'Leary. For a few minutes, Offaly buckled at the knees but Dempsey to his immense credit persevered and got to grips with his task, staying tight, toiling honestly and limiting O'Leary's influence while David Carty was also superbly effective beside him as he cut out a lot of ball.

Adam Kelly got Offaly off the mark in the 11th minute. Wexford replied with two and a fine Morgan Tynan point made it a goal game in the 18th minute. Offaly got completely on top after this. Tynan hit the post with a free, had another miss from a scoreable one while Lee Pearson and Luke Egan also had poor wides.

Still Offaly found the target with points from Darragh Flynn and two from Tynan, one a free and the other a superb kick from play, to level it up before Wexford got the final two to lead by 1-4 to 0-5 at half time.

O'Leary extended Wexford's lead with an early second half free before Offaly took over again. They piled forward relentlessly. Cormac Delaney pointed a free, won by Tynan who then hit the post with a great goal chance. In the 42nd minute a Wexford pick up, under pressure from Tynan, gave Offaly a penalty that Delaney drove to the net, though goalkeeper Tom Kennedy was very close to keeping it out. Delaney's free put Offaly 1-7 to 1-5 ahead and the whole complexion of the game had changed.

O'Leary responded with a Wexford free but another super placed ball from Delaney restored Offaly's two poiint lead. Wexford also had some poor wides before Ryan Connolly got it back to a point with five minutes left.

Offaly rallied again. A lovely point from impressive sub Jay Sheerin and an excellent Delaney free put them three up and they held on under the most intense of late pressure.

There were fine Offaly performances throughout the field. Defensively, they did really well with centre back Adam Strong recovering well from early problems with Rory O'Connor to man a very good half back line where John Furlong and especially Lee Pearson also thrived. Luke Egan was outstanding at midfield and Ryan Strong was very solid beside him before being replaced by Jay Sheerin who made a key contribution with some fine attacking play.

In the Offaly attack, Morgan Tynan was involved in so much and he is a very exciting prospect while Harry Plunkett's work rate, his covering of ground all over the field, tackling and efficient use of the ball show cased all that was good about this Offaly performance and Darragh Flynn had some very good moments.

MATCH ANALYSIS

THE TEAMS

OFFALY: Cathal Ryan (Kilclonfert); David Carty (Raheen), Fionn Dempsey (Bracknagh), David Dempsey (Clonbullogue); John Furlong (Tullamore), Adam Strong (Ballinagar), Lee Pearson (Edenderry); Ryan Strong (Ballinagar), Luke Egan (Tullamore); Aran Byrne (Daingean), Cormac Delaney (Clara), Adam Kelly (Clara); Harry Plunkett (Tullamore), Morgan Tynan (Ballinagar), Darragh Flynn (Ferbane). Subs – Jay Sheerin for Ryan Strong (39m), Corey White (Tullamore) for Byrne (49m), Michael Fox (Tullamore) for Plunkett (60m).

WEXFORD: Tom Kennedy; Eamon Doyle, Paddy Darcy, Leigh Newport; Jason Murphy, Jason Bolger, Brian Cushe; Leigh Whelan, Tom Kavanagh; Liam Crowley, Rory O'Connor, Shane Kehoe; Liam Doyle, Jack O'Leary, Ciaran Regan. Subs – Tiernan Malone for Kavanagh (27m), Ryan Connolly for Murphy (43m), Joe Curtis for Crowley (44m).

Referee – David Hickey (Carlow).

MAN OF THE MATCH

Luke Egan (Offaly): Luke Egan had a fantastic game for Offaly. He made some fine marks, got on a lot of ball at midfield, used most of it well and drove forward impressively. Harry Plunkett and Lee Pearson were also contenders as their honesty showed what was so positive about this Offaly display.

MOMENT OF THE MATCH

Offaly's penalty goal from Cormac Delaney 12 minutes into the second half was a decisive moment. It gave Offaly a 1-6 to 1-5 lead and they were always going to need a goal to win this game.

REFEREE WATCH

Carlow official David Hickey was certainly fair in that he did not favour either side but there were plenty of debatable decisions throughout as both sides felt harsh frees were given against them.

TALKING POINT

The word of mouth about the prospects of this Offaly team was not good as they had got some poor results in challenge games but they performed well on the day and can build on this.

VENUE WATCH

Bellefield in Enniscorthy is a fairly dated venue but the game was well hosted by Wexford in terms of the basic arrangements. There were, however, no announcements of team changes or subs and that should be done for spectators.

WHAT'S NEXT

Offaly travel to Navan to face Meath on May 8 while Wexford are at home to Dublin the same night.

STATISTICS

Wides: Offaly – 10 (7 in first half); Wexford – 7 (4 in first half).

Yellow cards: Offaly – 4 (Lee Pearson 2, John Furlong and Ryan Strong); Wexford – 2 (Brian Cushe and Tom Kavanagh).

Black cards: Offaly – 0; Wexford – 1 (Eamon Doyle).

Red cards: Offaly – 1 (Lee Pearson, two yellows); Wexford – 0.

THE SCORERS

Offaly: Cormac Delaney 1-4 (penalty and four frees), Morgan Tynan 0-3 (1f), Adam Kelly, Darragh Flynn and Jay Sheerin 0-1 each.

Wexford: Jack O'Leary 1-5 (5f), Rory O'Connor 0-3, Ryan Connolly 0-1.

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