For 76 minutes of this afternoon's refixed Division 2A clash at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park in Tullamore it looked as if Offaly were well on course to secure their place in the league final, as they outhurled Antrim in most phases of the game and most sectors of the field.
Michael Fennelly’s side learned a painful lesson in the value of pushing on to the final whistle however as Antrim struck late in dramatic fashion, firing in goals from Neil McManus and Conor McCann deep in stoppage time.
With no time to reply, that meant it finished all square and the loudest cheers would have been in Kerry, as the Kingdom will now take Offaly’s place in next weekend’s crucial promotion playoff.
Reflecting on this game over the next week, fortnight and longer will be a painful experience for the Offaly players and management. Their defensive performance in the second half of this contest was superb as they restricted Antrim to just five second half points in 40 minutes, just one of those from open play.
Yet they missed late chances of their own, dropping opportunities short and pushing others wide of the post, failing to build on their lead just when it looked like they were home and hosed.
Even as Neil McManus crashed in an incredible goal in the 77th minute, most supporters in the ground still felt that referee David Hughes would just blow his final whistle to confirm the result.
Instead he allowed play to continue, Conal Cunning won the breaking ball at midfield and a foul allowed Ciarán Johnson the chance to drop one more long ball into the Offaly square.
Nobody made a clean catch on Johnson’s floated delivery and once the ball broke into his path, full forward Conor McCann was on hand to swing his hurl and rattle the Offaly net for the second time, pushing his team level for the first time since the throw in.
Aside from the sensational finish, manager Michael Fennelly will also reflect on a very disappointing spell midway through the first half, when Offaly burst out of the blocks but then struggled to build on their momentum.
Eoghan Cahill, Brendan Murphy and Peter Geraghty all picked off some magnificent points to build up an 0-08 to 0-01 lead with just ten minutes gone, but repeated fouling of the ball allowed Antrim to work their way back into the game.
Throw balls, overcarrying, dropped hurls and catching the ball three times all featured as Neil McManus casually built up his scoring tally.
James McNaughton and Keelan Molloy hurled a lot of good ball at midfield, but in most other sectors Offaly seemed to have the upper hand, even though they struggled to make it count on the scoreboard.
Given the strength of the wind, a 0-13 to 0-9 interval lead was probably the equivalent of a draw game, and Antrim would have felt like they had a lot of room for improvement, particularly now that they were free to push their sweeper upfield.
Yet the Ulstermen never really kicked on from there, despite Conor Cunning adding real impetus off the bench. Ben Conneely, David O'Toole Greene and Dan Doughan were all superb under the Antrim puckout, which time and again went down the middle, only to be gobbled up and returned by a superb Offaly back line.
David Nally, Peter Geraghty and Seán Cleary picked off points from play and it seemed as if a rematch in the league decider was inevitable.
Late chances were missed by Nally, Leon Fox and Liam Langton, but there was no sense of panic in the home crowd as up to that point, goalkeeper James Dempsey hadn’t had a meaningful save to make.
No-one could have expected how that was about to change so dramatically.
Offaly: James Dempsey; Michael Cleary, David O'Toole Greene, Ciarán Burke; Brian Watkins (0-01), Dan Doughan, Brendan Murphy (0-01); Leon Fox, David King; Jason Sampson, Peter Geraghty (0-03, 0-01 sideline), Colm Gath; Seán Cleary (0-01), David Nally (0-03), Eoghan Cahill (0-11, 0-07 frees, 0-01 sideline).
Subs: Ben Conneely for M Cleary (22), Ross Ravenhill for Gath (HT), Sean Dolan for Sampson (57), Liam Langton for Cahill (64), Oisín Kelly for S Cleary (70).
Antrim: Ryan Elliot; Matthew Donnelly, Phelim Duffin, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsh, Ciarán Johnson, Aodhán O'Brien; Keelan Molloy, James McNaughton; Niall McKenna, Neil McManus (1-13, 0-10 frees, 0-01 ’65), Ronan Molloy; Conor Johnson (0-01), Conor McCann (1-00), Donal Nugent.
Subs: Conal Cunning for O'Brien (40), David Kearney for R Molloy (55), Conor Boyd for Walsh (57), Eoin O'Neill for McNaughton (66), Alex Delargy for Conor Johnson (66).
Referee: David Hughes (Carlow)