Keaney helps Dublin survive anxious finale


Dublin 1-20 Offaly 2-16:“Ye just have to take one look down, lads,” said Anthony Daly, spreading his palms out to the troughs and hillocks of the Parnell Park surface.

“It’s an absolute lottery, like. Fellas trying to rise to the ball – sure how could you rise it on that? You’d want a shovel!”

His Dublin team had only just had a point to spare over Offaly on a Saturday night that was the very definition of making hard work of it.

After leading by five at the break, by seven midway through the second half and by five again with 10 minutes to go, they still needed centre back Liam Rushe to rise and catch the last puck-out of the game to lock the victory down.

That Dublin hadn’t clear water behind them by that stage was down a little to the pitch, a little to the referee and a little to their own wastefulness.

On another night, they’d have had a fence to spare in the final furlong. Close and all as Offaly came to nicking a draw, anything but a Dublin win and the scoreboard could have been sued for libel. Even Offaly manager Ollie Baker admitted as much afterwards.

Stealing it

“If we did get something out of it, it probably would have felt like we were stealing it,” said Baker. “Dublin might have felt unjustified then because, at certain stages, we looked out of it and that’s why we have to give a bit of credit to our players that we stayed at it and kept going.

“Like, Dublin are a quality team and we’re delighted in one sense that they didn’t wipe the floor with us. But this is a league at the end of the day. You don’t get any plaudits for going away with moral victories.”

Not entirely true, Ollie.

If there’s ever a time for a moral victory, it’s the last weekend of February with snow dusting the players and summer barely a speck yet. Offaly’s players will train on with their tails up, happy on the back of decent debuts from Seán Gardiner and David King and assured by the inevitability of Shane Dooley’s shooting.

His 2-9 encompassed the full house – 1-8 from frees, a goal from play and a brilliant late point from a sideline cut.

As long as he stays standing, Offaly will keep any scoreboard rolling.

Dublin’s ambitions are pegged a few rungs higher though and in flashes here they stitched little moments of class on to their considerable heft and drive.

Conal Keaney was outstanding throughout, a magnet under the dropping ball in the first half and a ruthless source of pure striking in the second. He ended the night with five points from play, each a gem to match the previous one.

Danny Sutcliffe overcame some early anxiousness to plunder 1-2 and Conor McCormack’s was the buzziest display of the evening. Shored up by assured hours at the back from Rushe, Michael Carton and the excellent Ruairí Trainor, Dublin will wonder how it came to be so close at the end.

Their own profligacy will certainly take some of the blame. With Offaly losing full back and captain David Kenny in the warm-up, there were acres for the Dublin attack to exploit in the first half, yet they only led 0-11 to 0-6 at the break.

Both Sutcliffe and Paul Ryan fluffed their lines when presented with good goal chances and a five-point margin felt like scant reward for their dominance.

Classy points

A couple of classy points apiece from Keaney and McCormack at the start of the second half buffed their lead, but when Offaly sub Colin Egan got split above the eye on 50 minutes, it appeared to rouse Baker’s side into action. They knifed three quick points and although Keaney hit back with a towering score of his own, Offaly were soon within two when Dooley flicked to the net after a slip by Paul Schutte.

With 15 minutes to go, Dublin led only by 0-16 to 1-11.

Roused themselves however, they had the lead back out to six points within two minutes. Sutcliffe followed up a Johnny McCaffrey shot to bundle a goal and Kevin Byrne nailed a point of his own from the puck-out.

And although Dooley hauled Offaly back into matters late on by dispatching a 21-metre free – generously awarded by James McGrath – Dublin hung in and hung on.

“It would have been devastating not to get the two points,” said Daly.

“You’d have been shaking your head if we didn’t. We made it fairly tight for ourselves, just glad that it’s out of the way.”

February hurling calls for no more than to get it done and get away.

Box ticked, move on.

DUBLIN: G Maguire; P Kelly, P Schutte, R Trainor; M Carton, L Rushe, S Durkin; J Boland (0-1), K Byrne (0-1); C Keaney (0-5), J McCaffrey (0-1), D Sutcliffe (1-2); P Ryan (0-7, 0-6 frees), C McCormack (0-3), M Schutte. Subs: D Treacy for M Schutte (55 mins); N Corcoran for P Schutte (58 mins), D O’Callaghan for Sutcliffe (66 mins), S Lambert for Byrne (69 mins).

OFFALY: J Dempsey; D Morkan, C McDonald, D King; D Mooney, K Brady, S Gardiner; R Hanniffy (0-1), S Ryan; B Carroll (0-1), J Bergin (0-2, 0-1 free), C Parlon (0-2); J Mulrooney (0-1), S Dooley (2-9, 1-8 frees, 0-1 sideline), O Kealey. Subs: C Egan for Kealey (33 mins); T Carroll for Egan (temp) (47-49 mins); T Carroll for Ryan (51 mins); D Molloy for B Carroll (66 mins). Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath).

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