Allianz Football League Division Two
Cork 1-21, Offaly 1-20
By Kevin Corrigan
Cork retained their Division 2 status by the skin of their teeth after an enthralling relegation shootout with Offaly in Tullamore.
Behind by 1-19 to 1-17 with five minutes of normal time remaining, Cork were staring a devastating defeat in the face but they rallied powerfully to pull the game out of the fire.
After Brian Hurley and Ruari McNamee swopped points, Cork were still behind by a point as it drifted into injury time.
However, they got the win with points from Cian Kiely and a Stephen Sherlock free, awarded controversially for a kickout infringement after Paddy Dunican took a short one and then stopped the ball from going out over the end line.
Offaly manager John Maughan did not take issue with that free afterwards, stating that he was not fully aware of the technicalities of the rule and instead focussing on a very brave display by his side while insisting that they would get fully up for the Tailteann Cup if they do end up there later in the year.
It was a frantic end to a quite superb game of football, played on a summer type day in a championship-type fervour with two passionate sets of supporters creating a superb atmosphere.
It was fitting that Sherlock got that late free as he was ultimately the difference between the teams, kicking nine points with five of them from play.
Cork started superbly and could have been out of sight after ten minutes as they tore into Offaly.
An excellent second-minute goal from Cathal O’Mahony helped them to a 1-04 to 0-01 lead after 11 minutes but it could have been much more. Twice Colm O’Callaghan took points with the goal at his mercy – he fisted over after 16 seconds when he really should have went for it while his tenth-minute point was not as clear cut, it was still a chance.
Offaly settled down after this and got some points out of the top drawer to get back into it. Niall McNamee’s two were particularly breathtaking and Offaly had it back to 1-06 to 0-05 after 20 minutes.
Cork responded well and three points from Stephen Sherlock put them six ahead. Offaly got right back into it with an Anton Sullivan goal from a penalty with Kevin Flahive black-carded for hauling Niall McNamee down.
Bill Carroll and Sherlock exchanged points to leave Cork ahead by 1-10 to 1-07 at the break.
Cork got the first three points of the second half to go 1-13 to 1-07 ahead and with the wind on their backs, it was difficult to see a path back for Offaly.
Even when the home side rallied with four on the trot, Cork got the next two through John O’Rourke and Hurley to lead by 1-15 to 1-11 after 47 minutes.
They were still very much in the driving seat but Offaly read from a different script and through caution to the wind. They played very brave attacking football, taking chances and kicking some quality scores.
Offaly got three to bring it back to a point, Cork edged two clear again and were a point up, 1-17 to 1-16 with 57 minutes gone.
Offaly ripped into them after this. Paddy Dunican (free) Anton Sullivan and Niall McNamee (mark) pointed to put Offaly 1-19 to 1-17 and a shell-shocked Cork didn’t know what hit them.
They regained their composure, however, and it was a very relieved Cork team who walked off the field at the final whistle.
Offaly: Paddy Dunican (0-01f); Kieran Dolan, James Lalor, Niall Darby (0-01); Lee Pearson, Declan Hogan, Colm Doyle; Cathal Donoghue, Jordan Hayes; Dylan Hyland, Ruari McNamee (0-02), Bill Carroll (0-03); Johnny Moloney (0-01), Niall McNamee (0-07, 2f, 2m), Anton Sullivan (1-03, 1-00pen).
Subs: Cathal Flynn (0-01) for Pearson (23), Keith O’Neill (0-01) for Donoghue (40), Mark Abbott for Hyland (50), Ciaran Donnelly for Doyle (55), Bernard Allen for Sullivan (68).
Cork: Micheal Martin; Kevin O’Donovan, Kevin Flahive, Tommy Walsh; Rory Maguire, John Cooper, Mattie Taylor (0-01); Ian Maguire, Cathal O’Mahony (1-01); Daniel Dineen, Eoghan McSweeney, Colm O’Callaghan (0-02); Stephen Sherlock (0-09), John O’Rourke (0-03), Brian Hurley (0-03).
Subs: Blake Murphy (0-10) for McSweeney (47), Cian Kiely (0-1) for Flahive (52), Mark Cronin for O’Mahony (53), Brian Hartnett for Dinneen (5), Fionn Herhily for O’Rourke (69).
Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh).
Allianz Hurling League Division One relegation play/off
Antrim 2-24 Offaly 2-17
By Paul Keane at Páirc Tailteann
Antrim will continue to operate in Division 1 of the Allianz Hurling League after blitzing Offaly in the second-half in Navan to secure their top flight status for another season.
Tied with 44 minutes on the clock, it looked as if this relegation play-off could go either way but Antrim took full control from there on to register a timely first win of the campaign.
James McNaughton and Keelan Molloy had already registered goals by that stage so it was the point-scoring power of the Saffrons that propelled them to a crucial win.
Darren Gleeson’s men outscored Offaly by 0-13 to 1-3 in that final half hour or so to win largely at their ease.
Free-taker Conal Cunning finished with 10 points for Antrim who had nine different scorers in total.
Antrim led by 10 points in second-half stoppage time when Offaly pulled back a consolation goal from Eoghan Cahill who finished with 2-6 in total.
Antrim lost Niall O’Connor initially to a black card early in the second-half and then a red card late on after picking up a booking too.
As for Offaly, they finished with 13 players as Joey Keenaghan was red carded in the 66th minute for his second booking while Eimhin Kelly was black carded in the 77th minute.
The sides will do it all over again in mid-April when they meet in Round 1 of the Joe McDonagh Cup.
Antrim’s strong display was all the more impressive in the absence of talisman attacker Neil McManus.
He’d scored heavily for the Ulster outfit in their first four games, returning 1-2, 2-7, 0-13 and 1-7 tallies, but a hamstring injury ruled him out of the trip to Navan.
Michael Bradley and Niall McKenna were missing with knocks too though there was no obvious dip in quality.
Ciaran Clarke opened the scoring for Antrim inside 90 seconds and McNaughton burst through for a terrific solo goal in the fourth minute.
Offaly fought back to level terms but, true to the pattern of a game that the Faithful could never quite get to grips with, they fell behind again.
Cunning powered over a series of Antrim frees and another score from Clarke, from way out on the left wing, helped to open up a four-point gap.
Offaly wiped out that deficit with points from Cahill, David Nally, Luke O’Connor and Jason Sampson but, again, they just couldn’t nudge clear.
Antrim closed out the half strongly, reeling off 1-2 without response – Molloy with the stoppage time goal after good work by John Murphy – to deservedly lead 2-11 to 0-12 at half-time.
Offaly’s positive start to the second-half yielded Cahill’s first goal and they were back on level terms at 1-14 to 2-11 but from there on it was all Antrim and they won surprisingly at their ease.
Molloy, Joe Maskey, Eoin O’Neill and Clarke all tagged on points – leaving Offaly facing up to an immediate return to the lower tier.
Scorers for Antrim: Conal Cunning 0-10 (0-9f), Keelan Molloy 1-2, James McNaughton 1-2 (0-1f, 0-1 65), Ciaran Clarke 0-4, Eoghan Campbell 0-2, Gerard Walsh 0-1, Conor McCann 0-1, Joe Maskey 0-1, Eoin O’Neill 0-1.
Scorers for Offaly: Eoghan Cahill 2-6 (1-0 pen, 1-3f, 0-1 65), Jason Sampson 0-3, Luke O’Connor 0-3 (0-1f), David Nally 0-1, David King 0-1, John Murphy 0-1, Stephen Corcoran 0-1 (0-1f), Paddy Clancy 0-1.
Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Gerard Walsh, David Kearney, Stephen Rooney; Paddy Burke, Eoghan Campbell, Ryan McGarry; Joe Maskey, Keelan Molloy; James McNaughton, Ciaran Clarke, Conor McCann; Conor Johnston, Domhnall Nugent, Conal Cunning.
Subs: Niall O’Connor for Kearney h/t, Seaan Elliott for McNaughton 48-51 blood, Elliott for McNaughton 59, Eoin O’Neill for Johnston 65, Daniel McKernan for Nugent 70, Pheilim Duffin for McGarry 72.
Offaly: Stephen Corcoran; Jack Screeney, Ben Conneely, Joey Keenaghan; Leon Fox, David King, Killian Sampson; Adrian Cleary, David Nally; Brian Duignan, Liam Langton, Eoghan Cahill; John Murphy, Jason Sampson, Luke O’Connor.
Subs: Ciaran Burke for Cleary h/t, Eimhin Kelly for Langton h/t, Padraig Cantwell for Conneely 39-42 blood, Eoghan Parlon for Fox 58, Paddy Clancy for Duignan 58, Sean Cleary for O’Connor 64.
Referee: Rory McGann (Clare).