Battling Offaly pay dear price for defensive approach

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kevin@tullamoretribune.ie

Electric Ireland Leinster Minor Football Championship Group 2 Round 2

Kevin Corrigan

Meath ….......................0-8

Offaly ….......................0-5

PLAYING with commendable heart, spirit and honesty, Offaly missed a golden chance of a season defining win when they suffered a three points defeat at the hands of Meath in the second round of Group 2 of the Leinster Minor Football Championship on Wednesday last in Navan.

The win was in touching distance for Offaly throughout and they were in a very promising position when they went in leading by 0-4 to 0-3 at half time and whatever advantage a slight wind had to offer to come in the second half.

However, Offaly were outscored by 0-5 to 0-1 in the second half and over the course of the hour, they had absolutely no complaints at the result. The fact that they only managed one point in the second half, failed to score from play and had only one wide says it all about this Offaly performance.

There was absolutely no doubting their determination, will to win and intensity. They worked terrifically hard and there were loads of positives in their tackling and ability to close down their opponents. Ultimately, however, Offaly paid a very dear price for a very defensive set up and they did not attack this game in a manner that was really conducive to winning the game.

Instead, their game plan seemed to be to close down Meath, stop them from scoring and hit them on the break but for very long periods, Offaly had only one or two forwards in the Meath half of the field. This not only made life very simple for the Meath defence but it also invited them onto the visiting goal and they were able to get enough scores on the board to edge out a very dour contest.

It was a difficult evening for football – cold with wet underfoot conditions and occasional rainfall and it was far from easy to serve up fast open football. Despite that, it was a fairly forgettable evening and Meath were by no means innocent when it came to defensive stuff. They were often guilty of kicking the ball backwards rather than pushing forward and both sides seemed nervous, trying to retain possession at all costs and not showing their natural flair.

Offaly did well to be a point up at half time. Meath had impressed as marginally the better team in the first half but Offaly were solid and competent in most things they did. They displayed a great work ethic as they settled down after a worrying start during which Meath scored three points without reply in the opening eight minutes.

Amazingly Meath didn't score again until the second minute of the second half, even though they had a lot of ball and displayed a particular ability to win marks in midfield. Cormac Delaney got Offaly off the mark with a ninth minute free and reduced arrears to the minimum in the 16th minute after Morgan Tynan drew the foul after a great run forward.

Offaly then lived very dangerously for a few minutes and were fortunate not to concede a goal. First Pearse Sheridan was wide when he went for goal, though taking his point may have been the wiser option and then Barry Thompson had a bad wide with a great chance after a quick free. Offaly full back Fionn Dempsey also made a great block to deny Shane Smyth a shot on goal as Meath turned the screw.

The home side kicked nine poor wides in the first half while Offaly didn't have a wide until the 24th minute. By that stage Morgan Tynan had equalised from a point and Delaney's 29th minute free gave Offaly an interval lead.

It was set up for Offaly to do well in the second half but unfortunately, they didn't have a true cut at their opponents. Meath equalised with a 32nd minute Niall Finnerty point that could have been a goal and as it wore on, the negativity of both sides frustrated supporters.

Meath, however, pushed more numbers forward far more consistently and this was pivotal to their win. David Bell's 40th minute point pushed them ahead and it was the 53rd minute before the next point arrived, a Bell score from play followed quickly by a free from the same player.

With defeat staring them in the face, Offaly finally began to push forward in the last ten minutes but it was too little too late. Their only reward was a Delaney free and an injury time free from Bell gave Meath a deserved three point winning margin.

For Offaly, the most galling aspect of the performance was that not only did they not score from play but they rarely looked like doing so. They simply didn't have enough players forward to really extend Meath and you could see the frustration of players out the field as they drove up the wings only to have one or two men up the field and they tightly marshalled as they ended up turning back – often losing possession or penalised for over carrying.

Defensively Offaly did very well with Fionn Dempsey and Adam Strong marshalling the heart of the defence very well and Lee Pearson impressing on the wing. Conceding only eight points was a noteworthy achievement, albeit it with a packed defence. Ryan Strong, before he limped off, and Luke Egan both tried very hard at midfield, even though Meath won this battle.

It was from here up, however, that the “fun” started! Morgan Tynan provided some of the evening's brightest moments with a couple of exciting charges forward but was isolated and starved of possession for long periods. Cormac Delaney was once again excellent from frees and showed good touches in open play while Harry Plunkett was again given a roving roll and was very effective in the first half, though he did not get on as much ball in the second half.

MATCH ANALYSIS

THE TEAMS

MEATH: Dean Pluck; Jamie Fagan, Harry Corscadden, Cillian Hegarty; Sean O'Donoghue, Aaron Chinchilla, Ciaran Caulfield; Josh Carolan, Endi Ehichoyal; Shane Smyth, Niall Finnerty, Eoghan Frayne; Pearse Sheridan, Barry Thompson, David Bell. Subs – Evan Corrigan for Sheridan (41m), Jamie Browne for Thompson (50m), Jamie O'Shea for Finnerty (53m),Adam McDonnell for Shane Smyth (71m).

OFFALY: Cathal Ryan (Kilclonfert); David Carthy (Raheen), Fionn Dempsey (Bracknagh), David Dempsey (Clonbullogue); John Furlong (Tullamore), Adam Strong (Ballinagar), Lee Pearson (Edenderry, captain); 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 – Mark Bolton (Tullamore) for Carthy (inj., 5m), Jay Sheerin (Tullamore) for Byrne (half time), James Nolan (Raheen) for Ryan Strong (47m).

Referee – Gary Hurley (Westmeath).

MAN OF THE MATCH

Josh Caralon (Meath): Meath's two midfielders, Josh Carolan and Endi Ehichoya both played very well while the three points Niall Finnerty got from play were crucial on an evening where chances were at a premium. Carolan's influence was significant. He won a good few marks, got on a lot of ball and used it well.

MOMENT OF THE MATCH

David Bell's 53rd minute point ended a long 13 minute scoreless spell. It also put Meath two points ahead and at that stage of the game, that was a telling advantage.

REFEREE WATCH

Gary Hurley had a solid game. He was fair and got most calls right. One of his umpires at one end was a bit slow in signalling in the first half but neither side had major complaints at the officials.

TALKING POINT

Offaly's defensive approach was a big talking point among supporters. No doubt, there were solid reasons for having such an approach. Offaly had shipped a couple of big beatings in pre-championship challenge games and were also aware of the attacking threat posed by some of the Meath forwards. However, they still have to look back on this game with regret as there was an opportunity there with a more attack minded approach and it is certainly questionable to send a young team out to play this way.

VENUE WATCH

Pairc Tealteann was in good condition and the Meath County Board hosted this game very well.

WHAT'S NEXT

Offaly play Dublin tonight (Wednesday) in Tullamore while Meath are at home to Wexford.

STATISTICS

Wides: Meath – 14 (9 in first half); Offaly – 1 (1 in first half).

Yellow cards: Meath – 3 (Aaron Chinchilla, Niall Finnerty and Eoghan Frayne); Offaly – 3 (John Furlong, Lee Pearson and Ryan Strong).

Black cards: 0.

Red cards: 0.

THE SCORERS

Meath: David Bell 0-4 (3f), Niall Finnerty 0-3, Pearse Sheridan 0-1.

Offaly: Cormac Delaney 0-4 (4f), Morgan Tynan 0-1 (f).

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