Galway's sluggish start still more than enough to overcome spirited Offaly
All-Ireland champions begin their defence with a five-goal barrage in Tullamore
Offaly’s Sean Gardiner Galway’s Conor Whelan in action at O’Connor Park, Tullamore, Co. Offaly. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Galway 5-18 Offaly 2-15
This was neither the best Galway could have hoped for nor the worst they could have feared. They didn’t need to come with swords sharpened to survive Offaly’s company for the night in Tullamore and so they didn’t. They got in and got out with plenty in hand and plenty to sort out on the road back west.
For shorthand, look no further than the 2017 Young Hurler of the Year. Conor Whelan’s night was essentially an abridged version of Galway’s. For chunky spells in the game he looked out of sorts, unable to get clean ball into his hand, struggling for anything like his familiar fluidity.
Yet by the time he finished, he’d swatted home a goal, made the game-breaking catch-pirouette-and-pass for two more, scored a point, hit the butt of a post and been fouled for a penalty. It was a six-out-of-10 performance dressed up in its very best clothes. There was a lot of it around.
The margin in the end was 12 points, a total bumped out considerably by stolen goals at the end of both halves. Joseph Cooney’s in the 34th minute was a killer for Offaly, who were only a point down at the time and playing well. Kevin Martin’s side never threatened the result but getting to half-time within a puck of a ball would have been preserved at least the notion of it. Cooney’s goal, stitched to the bottom corner of Eoghan Cahill’s rigging on the run after Whelan had done all the donkey work, ended that little bout of whimsy.
And by the end, with game long gone, substitutes Niall Burke and Jason Flynn combined for Galway’s fifth green flag, just to push the margin out to the round dozen. The five goals, by the by, are a libel on the night’s work put in by Cahill in the Offaly goal. He had three full-length saves in the game, all from Joe Canning, one of them from a penalty. At any rate, five was plenty for Galway. Famously, they only managed two all year in 2017.
“It was obviously something we were conscious of last year,” said Micheál Donoghue afterwards. “It wasn’t that we weren’t creating the goal chances. It is a work-on. Ye boys keep highlighting it as well for us. With the forwards we have they are well capable of creating goal chances. Today we were just lucky that the boys took them.
“The goal before half-time gave us that bit of a cushion and we pushed on then in the second half. The keeper made a great save from Joe’s peno. If we had gotten that early on there might have been a bit more daylight between the sides.”
Offaly’s eminently respectable showing in the first half had its lifeline in that penalty save on 10 minutes. Brian Concannon had already bundled home Galway’s first goal and a second there would have been curtains. As it was, not only did Cahill save Canning’s shot but he got enough on it to bat it clear and within a minute, Offaly had a goal of their own through Shane Dooley. Only for Cooney’s goal just before the break, they’d have been right there pitching in the second half.
The advance notice of Offaly’s new-found stickability and defiance was on the money. Corner-back Ben Conneely was a revelation, constantly stripping possession from Galway forwards and distributing ball with a calm he had no right to possess. They were bullish and busy around midfield and Joe Bergin was putting in yeoman’s work in the full-forward line. Maybe Galway were rusty but there was still plenty in this for Offaly.
“We’re not going to get too down about it,” said Martin afterwards. “No one gave a chance coming in to win it anyway. There were a few points where I thought we maybe could have won a little bit better. If we had played as well in the second half as we did in the first, it would have been a lot closer.
“We’re trying to promote attacking hurling if we can. Maybe people might say we could have put a sweeper back in front of the full-back line there for a while and maybe cut out the Galway forwards cutting through. But, you know, I’m a positive man and I want positive hurling and I want lads to stay positive and go forward with the ball when they can and work back when they have to. I want them to enjoy it too, you know?”
The five-point cushion at the break meant Galway were never really in trouble. Whelan, Canning and David Burke all featured more prominently after the restart, with Whelan’s Aussie Rules catch to set up Concannon’s second goal on 43 minutes a particular highlight. That made it 3-11 to 1-8 with the guts of half an hour to go and from there it was a bingo-calling exercise.
Both sides have Kilkenny next, Offaly in Nowlan Park on Sunday and Galway in Pearse Stadium seven days later. The summer is up and running. Miles to go before anyone sleeps.
From play: 2-6
Frees conceded: 11
Yellow cards: 2
Red cards: 0
From play: 5-11
Frees conceded: 15
Yellow cards: 3
Red cards: 0