A tense encounter at O'Connor Park was taken by the home side as Offaly defeated Wexford 0-16 to 0-14 in this Allianz Hurling Division 1B clash.
It eventually came to a batlle between the keepers as Offaly's James Dempsey blocked Wexford custodian Mark Fanning's 20m free in the final minute to ensure a narrow win for Offaly.
The strong wind played a huge part in the tie and while Wexford led 0-10 to 0-6 at half time, their eight first half wides were to prove costly as Offaly reeled them in with the aid of the breeze.
Paul Morris was the leading scorer for the visitors with ten points, seven from frees, while Shane Dooley struck seven frees for the home side.
Wexford freetaker Gary Moore struggled to find his range in the early stages and he shot two bad wides in the first few minutes, while his forward colleagues tacked on two more before Ciarán O’Shaughnessy opened the scoring.
Richie Kehoe and Rory Jacob added to the lead for Wexford but good work from Brian Carroll and Kevin Brady at midfield for Offaly ensured that Wexford didn’t win all the primary possession and when the visitors did get the ball, they had to strike under immense pressure.
Offaly’s attack never really fired in the first half and it was 25 minutes before they registered a point from play.
However Shane Dooley’s frees kept them in touch and Wexford never led by more than five points.
Dooley rounded off the scoring to make it 0-10 to 0-06 at half time and the value of the wind was apparent in the early stages of the second half when Offaly exploded out of the blocks.
James Mulrooney, Colin Egan and Dooley again all tacked on scores, so with just one point between the teams and 30 minutes still to play, Offaly were the overwhelming favourites to take the spoils at this stage.
It didn’t quite work out that way however as Wexford kept battling hard and while they were hugely dependent on Paul Morris for scores, centre back Richie Kehoe was having a wonderful game at the heart of the defence and he cleared countless balls for the Slaneysiders.
Wexford stretched their lead out to 0-13 to 0-10, but Offaly owned the last 15 minutes and they finally began to make their dominance tell on the scoreboard.
Scores from Dooley and Cathal Parlon cut the lead to one and they finally drew level for the first time in the 59th minute when Seán Ryan made a wonderful blockdown on a Wexford defender and set up Joe Bergin for the equalising score.
Substitute Odhrán Kealey put Offaly in front a minute later after Shane Dooley found the Kinnitty player with an excellent crossfield pass and further points from Thomas Carroll and Derek Morkan looked to make the win safe for the home side.
The drama wasn’t over yet however as Paul Morris pulled one back for Wexford with a free, his tenth score of the day, to leave the crowd on tenterhooks for the closing minutes.
Good pressure from Wexford forced Kevin Brady to overcarry the ball and the two point lead caused plenty of tension in the crowd, many of whom remembered the league game between the sides last year at Wexford Park when Offaly led by eight with five minutes to play only to lose by one.
The possibility of another heartbreak was all the more real when Rory Jacob was fouled just outside the Offaly penalty area in injury time.
It appeared as if the stage was set for another smash and grab win for Wexford, but James Dempsey stepped up to deny Fanning, keep his net untouched and guarantee the victory.
Offaly: James Dempsey; Chris McDonald, David Kenny, David King; Derek Morkan, Rory Hanniffy, Seán Gardiner; Kevin Brady, Brian Carroll; Colin Egan, Joe Bergin (0-01), Cathal Parlon; Shane Dooley (0-05, 0-05 frees), Derek Molloy, James Mulrooney.
Subs: Paul Cleary for Seán Gardiner, Sean Ryan for David King
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Eoin Doyle, Andrew Shore, Bobby Kenny; James Tonks, Richie Kehoe (0-01 free), Andrew Kenny; Harry Kehoe, David Redmond; Gary Moore, Stephen Murphy, Ciarán O’Shaughnessy (0-01); Paul Morris (0-07, 0-04 frees), Garrett Sinnott, Rory Jacob.
Subs: Lee Chin for Andrew Kenny, Eoin Quigley for Gary Moore, Micheál O’Regan for Stephen Murphy (Blood)
Referee: Shane Hourigan (Limerick)