Offaly cruised to a facile 5-27 to 4-09 victory over Antrim in their dead rubber encounter at O’Connor Park in Tullamore, though the atmosphere will be entirely different when the two sides meet in the relegation final at Ballycastle next week.
Antrim were late arriving to the venue and were even later to start hurling as they fell to a 2-07 to 0-01 deficit after 12 minutes.
Seán Cleary and Stephen Quirke combined to post 4-08 from play for the hosts, while a hat trick for full forward PJ O’Connoll was the only bright spot for the Ulster county in an otherwise chastening afternoon for their young and understrength team.
It was an unfamiliar and rushed Antrim team that took to the field and after the game manager Kevin Ryan felt that this was a factor in his team’s very slow start. A string of Antrim mistakes were punished by Offaly in those opening minutes and a quickfire 1-02 from Ciarán Slevin helped the home side to open with 1-07 without reply.
Antrim finally got off the mark thanks to a Ciarán Clarke free in the 11th minute but immediately conceded their second major, Cleary tapping in after Seanan McToal blocked Quirke’s initial effort.
Nigel Elliot responded for Antrim with a low drive underneath Conor Slevin but Cleary soon restored Offaly’s double figure lead with his second goal, a fine catch, turn and finish at the edge of the square midway through the half.
Corner forward Stephen Quirke added another brace before the half time break while manager Brian Whelahan will also have been delighted with the form of teenager Conor Doughan, who made his first start in the forward line and posted three points before the break, four in total.
With Offaly leading 5-16 to 1-3 at the break there was no doubt about the eventual winners, but Antrim did break through for a goal early after the restart, PJ O’Connell provided the finish. Offaly pushed on with another string of scores as Sean Cleary (twice), Stephen Quirke, Shane Dooley (twice) and Colm Coughlan added points, but the porousness in the full-back line was again highlighted when O’Connell added two more majors over the course of the second half.
Rory Hannify, David Kenny and Ger Healion have all features at the edge of the square for Offaly in recent years and with all three men still out due to injury, this will be a major concern for Brian Whelahan in advance of next Sunday’s infinitely more important clash at Ballycastle, where the loser will be just one game away from playing Division 2A hurling in 2015.
Offaly: Conor Slevin; D Mooney, J Rigney, B Harding; C Parlon, C Egan, M Egan; D Morkan, K Brady (0-01); C Doughan (0-04), S Dooley (0-08, 0-03 frees, 0-02 ‘65s), Ciarán Slevin (1-04); C Coughlan (0-02), S Cleary (2-03), S Quirke (2-05).
Substitutes: G Conneelly for M Egan (5), C McDonald for Parlon (HT), C Mahon for Quirke (63), B Carroll for Doughan (69).
Antrim: S McToal; T O’Ciarán, P Burke, M Bradley (0-02); R McCambridge, T McCann, J McGreevy; M Donnelly, D McKernan; C McCann, S McAfee (0-01), S Beatty; C Clarke (0-05, frees), PJ O’Connell (3-00), N Elliot (1-01).
Substitutes: N McKenna for McCambridge (21), M Connolly for O’Ciarán (HT), D McGuinness for Beatty (HT), F Donnelly for McKernan (48).
Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary).