JOE McDONAGH CUP ROUND 4
What a way to go down, heads held high, fighting to the very last.
The effort alone deserved a win. Even in defeat Kerry were nothing short of magnificent. They raged against the dying of the light. They believed in themselves, in each other, they showed all the very best of what Kerry hurling is all about.
It was possibly the greatest game of hurling yet seen in the Joe McDonagh Cup. It had everything. Drama, more twists and turns than a Netflix limited series, and character that had to be seen to be believed.
For Kerry to come up achingly short will hurt them to their core. As they gathered in a circle after the match along with their manager, the indefatigable Stephen Molumphy, the pain was no doubt being bottled up for future use. These Kerry hurlers, and this Kerry manager aren’t done, not by a long shot.
Their 2022 challenge is at and end, but they leave the stage with reputation enhanced, going down by just a single point to an Offaly team fancied (with some justification) to go all the way.
There were heroes all over the park, each according to his ability and each according to the need. Pádraig Boyle, sensational all the way through. Mikey Boyle solidity itself. Fionán Mackessy a driving force.
Guys off the bench – Maurice O’Connor with a pair of goals, Jordan Conway with a trio of scores – guys who dug deep to up their game just when they were most needed, looking no further than Shane Conway who was sensational in the second half after a quiet first.
Time and again Kerry found a way to come back at Offaly even when they were under the severest of pressure, even when they shipped goals at the most inopportune of times.
And still coming into the final sixty seconds they were level following a point by Colin Walsh – another hero – alas a last gasp point by David Nally denied the Kingdom victory by the slimmest of margins. Yes, indeed, sport can be cruel.
The way Offaly started one might have been inclined to think it was just going to be one of those days for the Kingdom as the visitors to Austin Stack Park hit the grounding running with a pair of points from Eoghan Cahill (a free) and Jason Sampson inside the opening three minutes of action.
More worrying was Offaly’s first goal just six minutes in – David Nally picking out Killian Sampson for a brilliant finish – and the ease with which they cut open the Kerry rear-guard.
The goal left five in it – 1-3 to 0-2 – nothing in hurling, but you couldn’t but be nervous for the Kingdom at that juncture with the Faithful looking that bit sharper, and even physically stronger.
Still Kerry were undeterred. Following a Boyle free on 14 minutes Kerry were just three behind – 0-6 to 1-6 – and all things considered that wasn’t a bad place to be at all against Division 1 opposition, having conceded an early goal.
Two minutes later Kerry had a real chance to properly force their way back into the game with Colum Harty – excellent in the first half – and Fionán Mackessy combining to find Fionán O’Sullivan in the box.
The Kenmare Shamrocks’ man was fouled, the referee blew the whistle, Shane Conway stood up to take it and… Stephen Corcorcan put it out for a ‘65, pointed by Boyle. Kerry just had no luck.
If that set back wasn’t enough four minutes later Offaly had their second goal with goal-scorer Sampson assisting inside man David Nally for a brilliant finish to leave five between the sides, 0-8 to 2-7.
Kerry, though, weren’t for turning, weren’t for wilting and by the time the half-time break had rolled around they were still well in touch, just two-points down, 0-15 to 2-12.
A couple of switches at the break, the introduction of Jordan Conway in particular, seemed to boost Kerry even more and with Conway shooting the first two scores of the half, both from wide on the left, Kerry were level just five minutes into the half, 0-19 to 2-13.
The blood now up, Mikey Boyle in his pomp at half-back, Kerry went two clear following further scores from Shane Conway, the first a simply exquisite side line cut into the Horan’s end.
It was Kerry’s biggest – and only – lead in the game and when Offaly responded by hitting 2-6 without reply, Killian Sampson’s second coming just after Conway’s first from play, after a Paddy Clancy effort from a point struck the upright, it really felt like it wasn’t going to be Kerry’s day.
After a John Murphy goal on 54 minutes Offaly were ten clear – 0-21 to 4-19 – and all hope seemingly was lost for the Kingdom. Or so you would have imagined. This bunch of Kerry hurlers are made of sterner stuff.
Maurice O’Connor – who knows a thing or two about come-backs from Kilmoyley’s run to Croke Park – bagged his first on 56 minutes, with Conway and Michael Leane involved in the build up, and had his second seven minutes later with Mackessy turning provider this time around.
Kerry were now just three down, 2-23 to 4-20, and all still to play for. Like we’ve said, you couldn’t make this up. Offaly, sharp and accurate throughout, managed to withstand this Kerry whirlwind reasonably well and were still three clear heading into time added on.
Points from Boyle – a free – Jordan Conway and the aforementioned Walsh had it level before Nally’s last gasp intervention denied Kerry a share of the spoils.
They deserved better. Offaly, though, are an exceptional team. They hardly put a foot wrong all afternoon long. Against that Kerry needed to be inch perfect.
Not to be on this occasion, their day will come. Chalk it down.
KERRY: Louis Dee, Flor McCarthy, Eoin Ross (0-1), Eric Leen, Seán Weir, Mikey Boyle, Fionán Mackessy (0-2), Michael Leane, Colin Walsh (0-2), Pádraig Boyle (0-15, 11f, 2 ‘65), Colum Harty (0-1), Paudie O’Connor, Fionán O’Sullivan, Shane Conway (0-4, 1 sideline) Subs: Jordan Conway (0-3) for F O’Sullivan, half-time, Conor O’Keeffe for F McCarthy (inj), half-time. Maurice O’Connor (2-0) for C Harty, 49, Brian Lonergan for N Mulcahy, 68,
OFFALY: Stephen Corcoran, Jack Screeney, Ciaran Burke (0-1), David King, Eoghan Parlon, Ben Conneely (0-1), Ross Ravenhill, Adrian Cleary, Jason Sampson (0-2), Brian Duignan (0-1), Eoghan Cahill (0-10, 7f), Killian Sampson (2-0), David Nally (1-3), John Murphy (1-1), Luke O’Connor (0-1) Subs: Paddy Delaney for R Ravenhill (inj), 11, Paddy Clancy (0-1) for A Cleary, half-time, Pádraig Cantwell for E Parlon (inj), 42, Liam Langton (0-2) for L O’Connor, 44, Shane Dooley for E Cahill, 65
REFEREE: Rory McGann (Clare)