By Kevin Egan
MISSED chances were the story of the day in Tullamore last Sunday as Carlow failed to build on a solid first-half performance against Offaly, adding just four points after half time despite playing with the aid of a deceptively strong breeze.
Eight second-half wides and two goal chances that were brilliantly saved by Offaly goalkeeper Paddy Dunican proved crucial as the home side picked up their first win of the campaign, in the process dragging Carlow into a relegation battle that could yet see any team in the division make the drop into the basement for 2020.
The old adage “never give a sucker an even break” certainly applied here.
Offaly came into this game on the back of three competitive performances, but with just one point to show for their efforts. The manner of their two defeats were particularly hard for them to take – they coughed up an eight-point lead against local rivals Westmeath, then conceded a 76th-minute own goal against Louth.
Their confidence was on the floor, but Carlow failed to take advantage, almost entirely due to their own failings. In the first half, it was poor decision making that cost them, though their inaccuracy after half time was the truly fatal flaw.
Paul Broderick missed the target with three early dead ball chances, two of them dropping well short after he elected to shoot from 50 metres away from goal, into the wind. Offaly had their problems too as they struggled to work out what to do when Carlow packed the defensive area, often choosing to just run into blind alleys with predictable results.
Yet they were aggressive in the tackle themselves and succeeded in negating the obvious physical advantage that Carlow enjoyed with men like Darragh Foley, Sean Murphy and Brendan Murphy operating in the diamond sector. Meanwhile, up front, Anton Sullivan and Bernard Allen were always a threat for Offaly.
Still, 0-3 to 0-1 behind after 20 minutes of playing into the wind wasn’t a bad situation for Carlow to be in. Their prognosis improved even further when Paul Broderick found himself clean through on goal, and Offaly full back Clint Horan felt that he had no choice but to drag the Tinryland player to the ground in a style more suited to the Six Nations battle that was going on in Rome at the same time.
Horan’s decision backfired when he was sent to the sin bin, from where he could only watch on as Broderick rattled the twine with his spot kick. Ciarán Moran followed up with a point almost immediately, and Offaly were on the ropes.
Perhaps it was the midlanders’ resolve, or perhaps it was Carlow’s lack of a killer instinct, but when the Faithful County were restored to their full complement after 33 minutes, they were just a point adrift having kicked three points in the intervening time, as opposed to two Carlow scores, both from Broderick.
Moreover, Offaly manager John Maughan decided that a more aggressive approach was needed and he chose not to send his full back into battle again once the 10-minute sanction concluded, but instead to deploy another forward in the shape of Nigel Dunne.
Dunne – who some eagle-eyed supporters will remember as the player that kicked 0-8 (0-7 from play) in Ballinabranna’s 1-15 to 1-10 defeat to Shamrocks in the Leinster intermediate championship three months ago – proved to be a key contributor for Offaly over his 40 minutes on the field.
Still, he and his team-mates could only walk through the door that Carlow left open for them with some poor shooting. Jordan Morrissey had a glorious chance to put Carlow on the front foot when he field a high ball in behind the full back line, but his snap shot was smothered by Dunican in the Offaly net.
Dunican – who posted 1-3 in that same Ballinabranna game – is also a former League of Ireland goalkeeper and he was again to the fore with 10 minutes to play when he made another one-on-one save to deny Conor Crowley, but Carlow shouldn’t really have needed either score. Brendan Murphy and Sean Gannon kicked good points for the visiting side but they were Carlow’s only points between the 40th minute and the first minute of stoppage time.
More poor shooting in this phase of the game proved very costly, while at the other end Offaly gradually picked off the points they needed to accumulate a winning total.
After conceding late scores in both their defeats so far, Offaly’s mental state should have been seen as a weakness that Carlow might exploit late in the game, but they never got the chance due to a late flurry of cards.
Jordan Morrissey received a second yellow card, Eoghan Ruth a black and Danny Moran a straight red for an incident involving Nigel Dunne. Not alone were Carlow left with 12 men on the field, but the stoppages also ate into those precious injury-time minutes. One suspects their promotion chances have expired as well, now they must turn their thoughts to avoiding relegation.
Offaly: Paddy Dunican; Paul McConway, Clint Horan, Eoin Rigney; Cian Donohoe, John Moloney (0-1), Niall Darby; Eoin Carroll (0-1), Cathal Mangan; Shane Horan (0-1), Peter Cunningham (0-1, free), David Dempsey; Ruairí McNamee (0-1), Anton Sullivan (0-3), Bernard Allen (0-4, 0-2 frees). Subs: Nigel Dunne (0-2, 0-1 free) for Horan (33 mins), Niall McNamee (0-1, mark) for Carroll (54 mins), Nigel Bracken for R McNamee (70 mins).
Carlow: Robert Sansom; Conor Lawlor, Shane Redmond, Barry John Molloy; Jordan Morrissey, Brendan Kavanagh, Ciarán Moran (0-1); Brendan Murphy (0-1), Sean Murphy; Sean Gannon (0-1), Darragh Foley (0-1), Lee Walker; Darragh O’Brien, Paul Broderick (1-4, 1-0 pen, 0-2 frees, 0-1 45), Daniel St Ledger. Subs: Diarmuid Walshe (0-1, free) for Broderick (51 mins), Eoghan Ruth for Redmond (54 mins), Conor Crowley for Walker (56 mins), Danny Moran for Kavanagh (66 mins).
Referee: James Bermingham (Cork)