Offaly 4-15 Westmeath 1-20
Twelve months ago, the Leinster senior hurling championship exploded at the start of the round robin series when Westmeath rocked the hurling world with a fourteen-point win over Offaly at TEG Cusack Park.
And this year’s Leinster championship got off to a similar flier tonight at the same venue when a breathless finish saw Offaly secure their revenge on a 4-15 to 1-20 scoreline.
It was a victory that never looked likely throughout the opening half, when the home side were completely dominant – controlling the Offaly puckout, gobbling up breaking ball and loose possession with a far better touch on the stick, and eventually pulling 0-12 to 1-4 clear by the interval.
A penalty goal from Shane Dooley after six minutes helped the Faithful men into an early two-point lead, but it was quickly wiped out by good frees from Alan Devine.
Offaly were back in front by the 24th minute, but in truth they were extremely fortunate to be in that position and largely had Westmeath inaccuracy to thank.
That all changed in the closing minutes of the first half, however, as the Lake County completely found their groove.
Every one of their defenders seemed to completely suffocate their Offaly counterpart, led by the imperious Tommy Doyle at full back, and a string of good deliveries into the full forward line saw Joey Boyle, Darragh Egerton and Devine find the target to help establish their dominance.
Control of the Offaly puckout was a key factor, but Michael Ryan will also have been delighted to see good controlled aggression from his players, particularly in the light of two red cards in their last two games against Meath and Kerry.
For his part, Offaly manager Kevin Ryan called up Joe Bergin and Paddy Murphy from the bench at half time and while Bergin was a thorn in Westmeath’s side throughout the half, it was the sterling work of Murphy in the middle third that changed the momentum of the tie.
Murphy got on plenty of ball and won two frees that were converted by Dooley, while Bergin, Dooley and Liam Langton were also on the mark from play to help Offaly back to within a point.
Westmeath settled back into the tie with points from Killian Doyle and Devine, but pressure from the Offaly tacklers meant that they were committing far more unforced errors, and Offaly soon started to take advantage.
Still the Faithful County did not hit the front until seven minutes from the end of normal time when Emmet Nolan collected possession in the middle third of the field, took advantage of a huge gap down the heart of the Westmeath defence and then, from twenty metres out, slammed the sliothar off the turf, bouncing up into the net.
A point from Dermot Shortt and a second goal from Dooley, scrambled home from close range with 66 minutes on the clock, sent Offaly five points clear and should have been the catalyst for the Faithful to close out the tie – but instead two placed ball points from Devine and a remarkable goal from Killian Doyle, slipped under James Dempsey from a seemingly impossible angle in the second minute of added time, appeared to set up the possibility of extra time.
With the 3,105 people in attendance in raptures, Offaly delivered a final, clinical blow to steal the tie.
Shane Dooley was again their hero, blocking down Paddy Maloney for the first goal and then slipping over an insurance point while on the deck to wrap up the win.
Offaly goalkeeper James Dempsey also played his part, diving to make a superb save to deny Brendan Murtagh and wrap up a remarkable victory, and some would say redemption, for an Offaly side that will now be very interested spectators at tomorrow’s Dublin versus Galway clash at their home field in Tullamore, as they await the winners in the Leinster semi-final.
Westmeath: P Maloney; S Power, T Doyle, T Gallagher; A Craig, P Greville, C Shaw; A Clarke (0-01), G Greville; C Boyle, K Doyle (1-02), J Boyle (0-03); R Greville (0-01), N O’Brien (0-02, 0-01 sideline), A Devine (0-10, 0-08 frees, 0-01 ’65).
Subs: D Egerton (0-01) for Gallagher (15), J Galvin for O’Brien (36 – temp), Galvin for Power (62), B Murtagh for O’Brien (66).
Offaly: J Dempsey; B Conneely, D Shortt (0-01), E Grogan; S Gardiner, A Treacy, D King; P Guinan (0-01), S Ryan; E Nolan (1-01), S Dooley (3-08, 1-00 pen, 0-05 frees), O Kelly (0-02); S Cleary, S Kinsella, P Geraghty.
Subs: J Bergin (0-01) for Geraghty (HT), P Murphy for Treacy (HT), L Langton (0-01) for Kinsella (47), S Quirke for Cleary (51), C Kiely for Guinan (58).
Referee: Sean Cleere (Kilkenny).