Offaly romped to a facile 18-point victory over a sluggish Antrim side at Parnell Park this afternoon, securing their All-Ireland SHC status for next year.
The four relegation-threatened counties – Offaly, Antrim, Clare and Wexford – made a last ditch appeal to the Disputes Resolution Authority last night to have today’s play-offs halted because of the controversy surrounding the fixtures and the entire relegation process.
The appeal was defeated and confusion still reigns over next weekend’s relegation final and the possibility of a further relegation/promotion play-off between the losers of that final and Carlow, the Christy Ring Cup champions.
Carlow won the second-tier competition recently and a place in the 2010 Liam McCarthy Cup competition and it is understood that the DRA has recommended that such a promotion take place.
Where that leaves the relegation play-off finalists remains to be seen. However, the increased likelihood is that relegation will not take place this year ‘on technical grounds’, as the counties suggested to the DRA.
On the pitch in Donnycarney, Antrim made a strong enough start but their first touch let them down and the loss of countless puck-outs from goalkeeper Ryan McGarry helped Offaly race clear on the scoreboard.
The wind-backed Faithfuls collected a first minute goal when Kevin Brady sent a long ball on top of McGarry and it slipped out of the Antrim net minder’s grasp and into the net.
The Saffrons had tweaked their side before the throw-in, bringing in Sean Delargy for Eddie McCloskey at wing back and Paddy Magill for CJ McGourty at top of the left.
Offaly were without the injured Joe Brady (groin) but fielded a talent-laden line-up and an early switch saw corner back David Franks pushed into midfield.
Stewart and Paddy Richmond opened the scoring for the Ulstermen, and Michael Herron made an impact in centre-field before Offaly, swarming over McGarry’s high deliveries, began to find their form.
They rattled off points from Dylan Hayden, Franks, Brendan Murphy, goal scorer Brady, Brian Carroll and Shane Dooley for a 1-09 to 0-04 lead.
Danny McKillop teed up Stewart as Antrim stopped the rot, but the Glensmen were only playing in fits and starts and could only manage three more points before the half-time whistle.
Offaly were working off scraps towards the end of the half but were far more economical in their passing and shooting, and efforts from Paul Cleary, Carroll, Joe Bergin and Murphy steered the Midlanders to a 1-15 to 0-08 interval advantage.
Murphy and Derek Molloy were impressive as ball winners and Brady and his half-back colleagues were providing the platform to launch attack after attack.
Antrim needed to strike early in the second half and they were presented with an ideal chance when full-forward Richmond was fouled for a penalty.
However, Stewart’s powerful shot was blocked on the goal-line and David Kenny cleared the ball downfield as Antrim’s hopes slipped away.
Over the next 15 to 20 minutes, Offaly hit their scoring groove and put the result beyond any doubt with free-taker Carroll taking his tally to 0-12.
Substitutes Cormac Donnelly, Eddie McCloskey and CJ McGourty tried to inject some life into the game with a trio of late points but with Shane McNaughton sent-off, there was no way back for Antrim.
Joe Dooley’s victors cruised home, missing a penalty in the closing stages before two of the county’s young talents combined for the final score of a forgettable encounter – Colm Coughlan passed for James Gorman to register point number 28 and a very convincing win.