By Kieran Murphy
IN an age where Carlow throw their noses up at moral victors the management team and players were gutted to lose this Leinster under-20 hurling championship quarter-final in Netwatch Cullen Park on Sunday.
In the past, a three-point defeat would be looked on as an illustration of the development of the game in the county. Not now. These games are there to be won and when you don’t come out on top, intense disappointment follows.
Having said that, Offaly deserved their win but take out the first five minutes of the game and the opening two minutes of the second half where the visitors scored 1-4 against slumbering opponents, the result could have been so different.
Offaly got off to the better start surging points in front with points with Cathal Kiely and David Nally. When Cillian Sampson found the posts with a wonderful strike out on the left into the scoreboard end of the ground the home side needed to do something and do it fast.
A Ciaran Whelan seventh-minute free settled them and with Dean Tobin picking off two points from play it was game on. From there to the half-time score of 0-9 each, it was tit-for-tat with the sides level on five occasions.
Some of those points were top class. Dean Tobin’s first was struck from the sideline out under the stand while he was unlucky to see the sliotar fly over the crossbar after being put through by Ciaran Kavanagh. Tobin had a half-goal chance too but his shot was saved by an alert defence.
The opposition’s John Murphy was on target with an effort for a point from the right while Barry Duignan, son of Michael the former Offaly hurler, was unlucky to see his rasper fly over the bar.
Right from the second half throw-in The Faithful County struck for a three-pointer when a quick passing movement put in John Murphy and he made no mistake with space opening in front of him.
At the other end Ciaran Kavanagh attempted to bat the ball home but the Offaly keeper, Eamonn Cleary, made the stop.
It was up and down the field after that. Ciaran Whelan and Cathal Kiely had their own personal duel and at the end it was the Carlow man who outscored his opponent by a solitary goal.
That came with time running out when Offaly got their lines crossed and failed to effect a long clearance. Whelan was on hand to fire the ball home from a narrow angle on the right. That set up an exciting finale.
Carlow came in numbers. The Offaly defence were superb and never looked like breaking. They were also able to get the ball up the field and while not every chance was taken, Duignan, Conor Langton and Kiely all picked off a point each from play which acted as a buffer every time Carlow came forward looking to get on terms.
It was disappointment for the home side on the final whistle while Offaly will be hoping this will be the team who will act as a platform to effect a resurgence in hurling at all levels inside the county.
Offaly: Eamonn Cleary; Ryan Hogan, Ross Ravenhill, Sean Beatty; Ciaran Burke, Conor Butler, Ciaran Doyle; David Nally (0-2, 0-1 65), Cillian Sampson (0-2); Brian Duignan (0-3), Harry Kealey, John Murphy (1-1); Cathal Kiely (0-10 frees), Conor Langton (0-2), Joey Keenaghan Subs: Conor Quinn for Keenaghan (38 mins), Cillian Ryan for Kealey (38 mins), Lochlann Kavanagh for Nally (47 mins), Dara Maher for Doyle (55 mins).
Carlow: James Kavanagh; Dylan Connors, Jack Ryan, Donal Jordan; Eoin Kavanagh, Tony Lawler, Eanna Holland; Ciaran Whelan (1-10 0-6 frees, 0-3 65s), Barry Hickey; Dan Sheehan (0-1), Jon Nolan (0-1), Dean Tobin (0-3); Richie Whelan, Ciaran Kavanagh (0-1), Jason O’Neill. Subs: Rory Joyce for R Whelan (38 mins), Keelan Guidera for E Kavanagh (42 mins), Tadgh Daly for E Kavanagh (46 mins), Conor Treacy (0-1) for O’Neill (52 mins), Oisin Ryan (0-1) for C Kavanagh (59 mins).
Referee: Mick Murtagh (Westmeath).