Kildare 1-15 Offaly 0-13
There is only one way to hit the ground in a knock-out championship match and that’s running. It’s not where the game is lost but can be won and on that front only perhaps Offaly will harbor the regrets.
Because what ultimately swung this result in Kildare's favour was their ability to close out the game running, or at least when it counted most. They pressed on in the third quarter with a series of unanswered points plus a dazzling goal from Neil Flynn, and even if Offaly came back again at the death their chance in truth had already passed.
Both managers admitted as much afterwards, John Maughan claiming his team had Kildare "spooked" in the first half, only failed to make the most if it; likewise Jack O'Connor admitted there was a "lethargy" about his team, before they eventually got up to the pace of things.
Even as they drifted out of contention Offaly weren't done. Kildare played the last 10 minutes with 13 men (Ryan Houlihan sent off for a second booking, Jimmy Hyland black carded), only the hunt for the goal Offaly needed was fruitless. Kildare's defence has unquestionably tightened up.
In the immediate aftermath the open draw for the Leinster football semi-finals saw Kildare matched with Westmeath, whose impressive score over Laois earlier in the day will likely test Kildare further: for O’Connor this was a game all about the winning, the next day being the time for improvement.
“It was as tough battle, and we probably were slight undercooked, without a game for three weeks,” said O’Connor. “I think that was lethargy more than anything, we’d so many injuries we couldn’t take too many chances.
“It told early on, Offaly were at the pace of it better than us, particularly the first 20 minutes. At half time we just said we had to up the pace, because Offaly were dictating, and particularly the third that won it for us, gave us a small cushion to drive on.
“So delighted, Offaly are good side, and well battle-hardened, that game will stand to us now before Westmeath in a couple of weeks. We’ll take it, a five point win, 1-15 is a good score. Neil Flynn, we know his class, and it’s great he’s fulfilling it.”
Flynn finished with 1-7, his accuracy the standout stat on a day both teams otherwise struggled. Maughan made no secret of Offaly’s own shortcomings on the scoring front, particularly in that first half when they lorded possession and set the pace.
“It went wrong for us in that first half,” he said. “We’d a lot of possession, maybe only 33 per cent conversion, And that’s the difference, not taking the chances, too long scoreless when we were in possession. That’s were we lost the game. It wasn’t that we weren’t good enough, we just weren’t ruthless enough.”
It still had plenty of the hallmarks of a local derby, just not a classic one, Maughan was also adamant it was an opportunity missed: “I’d say the last three years, it would have been a giant leap forward to take a scalp like Kildare, and we’re getting closer, we’re getting competitive, and things are looking up for Offaly football.
“We tried, but just didn’t capitalise through the entire 75 minutes of football. We had buckets of chances, and we had them spooked, no question about it. We felt coming here we were certainly good enough to beat Kildare, no question of that. There was a great air of confidence in the team, and that was our eighth game in nine weeks, including a challenge, so maybe a little bit a fatigue creeping in there down the homestretch, but they were brave.”
Indeed by the first water break it was evident Kildare had a game and a fight on their hands, players from both teams were facing off and shoving around, the message of intent seemingly louder from Offaly. Still quality took a backseat to errors for a lot of the first half, the choice of shooting and accuracy from both teams not exactly up to scratch. They were level four times, Offaly setting that pace however with their greater intent - points from play by Cian Farrell and Bernard Allen the best of them, goalkeeper Paddy Dunican stepping up to add a 45-metre free.
Kildare looked heavy-legged, at times appearing disinterested, before sparking to life at times. Flynn converted three frees, Fergal Conway and Darragh Kirwin scoring from play, before a mark by Mick O'Grady in added time meant they went in one point in front - 0-6 to Offaly's 0-5.
Flynn’s goal came on 56 minutes, after he swerved and swaggered through the Offaly defence before choosing his spot most wisely: coming as that did after three unanswered points it made for the only safe margin of the game, enough to see Kildare through, and leave Offaly wondering for another year about what might have been.
KILDARE: M Donnellan; E Doyle, M O'Grady (0-1, a mark), M Dempsey; K Flynn, D Hyland (capt), R Houlihan; K Feely (0-1), A Masterson (0-1); N Flynn (1-7, four frees, two 45s), F Conway (0-2), C Hartley; D Kirwan (0-1), B McCormack, J Hyland (0-2).
Subs: B McLoughlin for Kirwan (53 mins), S Ryan for Conway (56 mins), S O’Sullivan for McCormack (64 mins), P Brophy for Hartley (71 mins), C Kavanagh for K Flynn (74 mins).
OFFALY: P Dunican (0-1, a 45); J Lalor, E Rigney, N Darby (capt); D Dempsey, J Moloney, C Doyle; P Cunningham, J Hayes; C Mangan, C Stewart, A Sullivan (0-1); C Farrell (0-8, four frees), N McNamee (0-2, both frees), R McNamee.
Subs: S Horan for Rigney (25 mins, inj), B Allen (0-1) for R McNamee (28 mins), E Carroll for Mangan (half-time), B Carroll for Cunningham, A Leavy for Doyle (both 60 mins).
Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan).