Allianz Football League Division 3 Semi-Final
Offaly 1-14 Fermanagh 0-12
By Kevin Egan at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park
Sensational in the first half, nervous and error-prone in the second, Offaly fell across the promotion line this evening at Fermanagh’s expense, a late Mark Abbott goal against the run of play sealing their win just when it looked like the Ulster county might complete a miraculous comeback.
In truth, Offaly’s nervousness opened the door for Fermanagh, rather than it being a case of Ryan McMenamin’s side battering their way through. 0-10 to 0-4 to the good at half time, it was 0-14 to 0-7 at the second half water break, with a wonderful save from Seán McNally to deny Bernard Allen a key factor.
McNally was a central character in the story of this game for several reasons, due to the sending off of Eoin Donnelly just before half time. Fermanagh were brave in response to this setback, pushing McNally up the field to fill the gap when they were in possession, or when Offaly held the ball in their own half. Add in some excellent long-range scores from Darragh McGurn, Stephen McGullion and Seán Quigley, and suddenly the tension was ratcheted up to a considerable level in the closing minutes.
In the end, it was a crucial moment from a man in his 19th season with Offaly that settled it. Niall McNamee had been coming off the bench all year to kick vital scores but this time around his key contribution was breaking up a short Fermanagh kickout and feeding Mark Abbott for the game’s only goal.
The gulf between the sides was considerable in the first half, with Offaly playing an expansive, high-tempo game when in possession while Fermanagh looked ponderous, and devoid of ideas how to get the ball into their man attackers.
Daragh McGurn looked as surprised as anyone when he broke one tackle and suddenly saw the parting of the sea in front of him, enabling him to run through 20 metres of empty space and chip over their first score after 11 minutes. They added two more frees and then an excellent strike off the outside of the right boot from Ciarán Corrigan with the last attack of the game, and outside of that, all the best work was done by the home side.
Anton Sullivan shot three excellent scores from the left wing and team captain Niall Darby came forward from corner back to split the scores for another to help Offaly into an 0-4 to 0-1 lead, and from then on it was IT Carlow student Cian Farrell who took on the responsibility of carrying the Offaly attack with five points in the half – two from play, two marks and a free that he earned himself after winning a breaking ball.
It could have been even more. Peter Cunningham struck the foot of the post with a daisy cutter of a shot after cutting through the middle, while Bernard Allen wasn’t as accurate as would usually be the case, missing the target with two good chances. That said, if Fermanagh felt that luck was on their side to be staying in touch, that changed in the 34th minute when Eoin Donnelly got a red card for his second bookable offence. While he could have little argument with the second card for a high tackle on Colm Doyle, the first was a particularly contentious call as his shoulder-to-shoulder charge on Carl Stewart was only a second late and looked like a genuine attempt to tackle.
With McNally playing well as a sweeping defender, Fermanagh never really felt the loss of their talismanic midfielder in terms of the extra man, and they took over in the middle without ever making it count on the scoreboard in the third quarter.
They certainly did in the fourth however, rattling off five scores unanswered before Offaly’s goal.
OFFALY: Paddy Dunican (0-01, ’45); James Lalor, Eoin Rigney, Niall Darby (0-01); Colm Doyle, Carl Stewart, Jordan Hayes; Eoin Carroll, Peter Cunningham; Shane Horan, David Dempsey, Anton Sullivan (0-04); Bernard Allen, Cian Farrell (0-07, 0-02 marks, 0-03 frees), Rúairí McNamee (0-01).
Subs: Cathal Mangan for Carroll (half-time), Niall McNamee for Allen (44), Cian Donohoe for Hayes (48), Bill Carroll for Horan (60), Joe Maher for R McNamee (60), Aaron Leavy for Cunningham (68), Mark Abbott (1-00) for Sullivan (68)
FERMANAGH: Seán McNally; Luke Flanagan, Kane Connor, Jonny Cassidy; Kevin McDonnell, Tiarnan Bogue, Aidan Breen; Stephen McGullion (0-01), Eoin Donnelly; Ciarán Corrigan (0-01), James McMahon, Josh Largo Ellis; Danny Leonard, Daragh McGurn (0-03), Seán Quigley (0-06, 0-05 frees).
Subs: Declan McCusker for Connor (half-time), Ultan Kelm for Leonard (half-time), Richard O’Callaghan (0-01) for Bogue (44), Tiarnan Daly for Breen (45), Cain McManus for McDonnell (64), Mark McCauley for McGurn (68), Sean Cassidy for Flanagan (69), Paul McCusker for McMahon (70+3).
Referee: Patrick Maguire (Longford)