Offaly 3-19 Kerry 0-20

Two second-half goals from Joe Bergin were crucial to the Offaly cause this afternoon in O’Connor Park as the Faithful County recorded a 3-19 to 0-20 win over Kerry in the Leinster round-robin series, setting up a quarter-final clash with Laois at the same venue in a fortnight’s time.

The final margin was more than a little harsh on Kerry who arguably deserved to be ahead at half-time after playing with the wind.

Instead they trailed 1-9 to 0-11 thanks to a scrappy Shane Dooley goal and while they struck the first three points of the second half, Offaly soon took over and powered home in the final quarter.

It was the potency of the Dooley/Bergin combination that got Offaly over the line here as they chipped in for 3-12 between them – albeit with 0-10 of that coming from Dooley placed balls.

Both men were central to all three goals however and on an afternoon when there was little to call between the two sides from general play, that ability to find the net was ultimately the main reason why Offaly will embark upon a Leinster and All-Ireland championship campaign next month, while Kerry are now finished with adult intercounty hurling for the year. 

Offaly started this contest with the mantle of favouritism but that eroded very quickly as Kerry burst out of the blocks at the Tullamore venue, firing over five points in the first seven minutes.

A fresh and lively breeze blew at their backs but it was no more lively than their play around the middle third of the field, where they competed well for primary possession and sent over a series of gorgeous scores.

After shipping some early damage, Offaly steadied the ship with five points in arrow of their own, though they were hugely dependent on Dooley who scored all bar one of their first seven scores.

Dooley calmly popped over free after free, while he also drew rapturous applause for a superb point from a sideline cut off the terrace side of the ground.

Kerry’s use of possession in the opening half was less than perfect and many of their long deliveries didn’t favour their smaller, faster inside forwards, however from further out the field they were very dangerous and two glorious scores from long range, one each for midfielders Daniel Collins and John Griffin, left them 0-11 to 0-9 in front.

That would have been a fair reflection of the opening half however Offaly got a vital break when Joe Bergin played in Shane Kinsella with a quick catch and handpass and his low ball across the goal was eventually swept over the line by Dooley.  

That left the home side very well poised to push on and close out the win but instead a series of wides after half time cost them dearly, while Kerry calmly picked off three points to move back in front.

Offaly’s hard running was drawing fouls however and three Dooley frees restored Offaly’s lead before they finally gave themselves some breathing room with twenty minutes to play. 

Joe Bergin kickstarted their strong finish when he leapt highest to touch Dooley’s high ball past Aidan McCabe and when Kevin Connolly followed up with a point, Offaly were five clear.

Kerry continued to press for scores but while Shane Nolan and Brandon Barrett fired over some excellent points, they never really troubled James Dempsey in the Offaly goal.

Bergin’s second goal, again assisted by Dooley, killed off any lingering hopes of a Kerry comeback and set Offaly up with a home Leinster quarter-final against Laois, where a win would take them out of the round robin series in 2017.

Offaly:  J Dempsey; C McDonald, D Shortt, P Rigney; D King, S Gardiner, D Mooney; S Ryan, P Camon; C Kiely (0-01), S Kinsella (0-01), P Murphy; S Dooley (1-10, 0-08 frees, 0-01 ’65, 0-01 s/line), J Mulrooney (0-01), J Bergin (2-02).

Subs: K Connolly (0-02) for Camon (35), B Conneelly for Mooney (55), P Guinan (0-01) for Kinsella (58), L Langton (0-01) for Murphy (66), S Cleary for Kiely (66)

Kerry: A McCabe; B Murphy, P Kelly, K Carmody; J Diggins (0-01), D Dineen, T Murnane; D Collins (0-02), J Griffin (0-02); B Barrett (0-03), P Lucid, S Nolan (0-08, 0-06 frees); J Conway, J Egan (0-03), J Goulding.

Subs: M O’Leary for Lucid (29), D Fitzell for Murphy (52), B O’Leary for Conway (55), T Casey (0-02) for Collins (60)

Referee: Paud O’Dywer (Carlow)