Offaly 0-16 Dublin 2-16

A highly-rated Dublin U-20 hurling side came through a tough test of their credentials this afternoon at St. Brendan's Park in Birr, only squeezing past a defensively strong Offaly side thanks to goals from Darach McBride and Kevin Desmond in the last ten minutes of play.

McBride's goal was particularly significant, as it came in response to a point from Brian Duignan that made it 0-14 each, the first time the sides were level since the Dubs roared out to an early five-point advantage.

With Offaly chasing the game, the door was left open for Desmond to nip in and slam home a second major, thus securing Dublin’s place in next weekend’s semi-final line up, where Wexford will be their opponents.

The early exchanges offered no evidence that a tight and tense finish was likely. Dublin's complete and total control of the Offaly puckout, allied to their far greater accuracy in front of goal and their control of key Offaly danger-men set a solid platform on which they could build a lead and at the first half water break it looked as if their path to a semi-final clash with Wexford would be a smooth one.

Darragh Power was hugely influential at midfield, hurling a lot of ball at both ends of St. Brendan’s Park, and while Dublin struggled to make inroads into a strong Offaly back line, a series of frees from Liam Murphy helped them build an advantage.

By the start of the 19th minute, Offaly had just a single score on the board – that tally increased to four in the space of the next three minutes, with Kevin McDermott, Cathal Kiely and Rory Carty all on the mark.

Again Dublin edged clear with a brace of frees from Murphy but Offaly came back again thanks to a strong performance in the tackle, and by half time they trailed by just two, 0-7 to 0-9, having shot seven wides to Dublin’s one in the opening half.

Darach McBride and Micheál Murphy embrace at the final whistle

Cathal Donoghue cut the gap to the bare minimum with a fine score from the left wing immediately after half time, but Dublin always looked sharp up front, playing some good heads-up hurling. Two scores in a minute from Micheál Murphy restored their lead, and they still led by three coming up to the second half water break.

Cathal Kiely, who scored 0-20 in last year’s remarkable win for the Faithful men in Parnell Park, was visibly impeded by a groin injury and he struggled to influence the game from open play, but his free-taking continued to be a dangerous weapon for the home side.

At one stage he struck a score from inside his own 45m line, into the slight breeze, and right out on the sideline, making it 0-14 to 0-13 with ten minutes to play. The next score from Brian Duignan tied up the game, and it was Offaly with all the momentum.

The big swing moment of the game followed. A long ball into the Dublin full back line was well dealt with by Eddie Gibbons and Tommy Kinnane, and they won a free out from their own square. A thunderous puck of a ball from Gibbons later, and play was at the other end of the field.

A Dublin body emerged from a ruck of players, got a handpass away to Darach McBride, and in the time it took to swing his stick, the net was rippling.

Again Offaly replied through Kiely, but Kevin Desmond's goal, Dublin’s second, wasn’t long following and that rubber stamped the victory for the boys in blue, who also finished the game with an extra man on the field when Cathal Kiely received a second yellow card in stoppage time.

Dublin: Eddie Gibbons (0-03, 3f); Tommy Kinnane (0-02), Andrew Dunphy, Brian Sheehy; Iain Ó Heither, Kevin Burke, Enda O’Donnell; Darragh Power (0-01), Mark Sweeney; Darach McBride (1-01), Michéal Murphy (0-02), Luke McDwyer; Dara Purcell, Billy Ryan (0-01), Liam Murphy (0-05, 5f).

Subs: Kevin Desmond (1-00) for Purcell (36), Pádhraic Linehan (0-01) for Ryan (47), Donal Leavy for Power (54), Michael Conroy for O’Donnell (58), Liam Dunne for McDwyer (59).

Offaly: Eamonn Cleary; Rory Carty (0-01), Conor Butler, Dara Maher; Ross Ravenhill, Pádraig Cantwell, Jack Screeney; Luke Nolan, Kevin McDermott (0-01); Killian Sampson (0-01), Cathal Donoghue (0-01), Brian Duignan (0-01); Cathal O’Meara (0-01), Cathal Kiely (0-10, 0-07f, 0-02 65s), Cathal Flynn.

Subs: Lochlainn Kavanagh for Donoghue (47), Niall Lyons for Flynn (55), Morgan Watkins for O’Meara (55), Cathal Brady for Duignan (58)

Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow)