Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Hurling semi-final
OFFALY 2-16 CLARE 0-18
Kevin Egan at FBD Semple Stadium
A stunning display of long distance shooting from Dan Ravenhill, clinically-finished goals from Adam Screeney and Conor Doyle, and a ravenous defensive display saw Offaly past Clare tonight and into their first Electric Ireland All-Ireland minor hurling final since 1989.
Screeney’s goal in the 17th minute gave the midlanders a lead that they never relinquished, though it wasn’t until the Kilcormac-Killoughey corner forward earned and converted a free on the Kinane Stand touchline that the Offaly-dominated crowd could breathe easily and savour the last two minutes of play, knowing that Clare would need to score twice to overhaul their lead.
All-Ireland minor semi-final appearances have been a rare pleasure for both Clare and Offaly over the past two decades, as Offaly headed into their first since 2000, while Clare featured in just two in the intervening time.
That sense of occasion, allied to the atmosphere generated by the packed stand, led to a nervous opening in which both sides struggled to find the target. Five wides were shared between the teams before a fine strike from Jack O’Neill settled the Banner County, and sure enough, once they were off the mark, Clare found their rhythm quite quickly.
Caelum Larkin and Ruairí Kelly had to be sharp to deny Sam Scanlon a clear goal chance, with Oisín Whelan pointing the resultant 65, and further scores from James Organ and Whelan put Clare into a commanding lead coming up to the quarter hour mark.
In the absence of inspiration up front, Offaly leaned heavily on perspiration to break their scoring duck, forcing a turnover that led to Adam Screeney pointing a free.
There was plenty of magic about their second score, a majestic strike on the run from wing-back Donal Shirley, and in the blink of an eye Offaly were in front through a Dan Ravenhill free and a clever close range finish from Adam Screeney, deftly floating the sliotar over Mark Sheedy for the game’s first goal.
Inaccuracy continued to plague both sides but there was no shortage of endeavour, as the two teams played with the intensity that the occasion merited.
Oisín Whelan fired over a point from a tight angle, Matthew O’Halloran struck an excellent score from distance as Clare piled on the pressure, but Offaly held their nerve to lead by two at half-time, 1-6 to 0-7.
At the start of the first half, the two teams played like it was a big occasion. At the start of the second, they played with the ferocity of a full-blooded championship match, and the quality went through the roof.
Jack O’Neill opened the scoring for Clare but Offaly’s reply was emphatic, a long puck out that was fielded by Conor Doyle and as the defence opened up in front of him, he turned down the easy point and drove for goal, making it count as he fired a low shot into the corner from just inside the 20m line.
As Dan Ravenhill hoisted over a couple of glorious long range scores, Offaly moved six clear and looked like they might pull away to win well, but again Clare rallied and four points on the spin, the highlight a crafty steal and strike from Diarmuid Stritch, threw everything right back in the melting pot.
Offaly had a trump card however in the shape of substitute Daniel Hand, who was unavailable for the Leinster final but came on to play a key role here, firing over a vital, settling point and also winning a couple of key possessions.
The volume was raised even further as Ravenhill again found the target from distance, though there was to be one last push from the Banner men. Cian Neylon got two good points, though one could have been a goal chance but for solid defensive work from Rúairí Kelly, while Oisín Whelan knocked over a few frees as tiredness and nervousness crept into Offaly’s play. Crucially however, their full-back line held firm and ensured the goal chance that Clare needed never came, while one last clearance found Adam Screeney in the corner and after a comparatively quiet showing for the highly-rated attacker, he was able to seal the deal from the right-hand touchline.
Scorers for Offaly: Adam Screeney 1-5 (0-5f), Dan Ravenhill 0-6 (0-3f), Conor Doyle 1-0, Donal Shirley 0-1, Daniel Hand 0-1, Cillian Martin 0-1, Leigh Kavanagh 0-1, Shane Rigney 0-1.
Scorers for Clare: Oisín Whelan 0-8 (0-6f, 0-1 65), Cian Neylon 0-3, James Organ 0-2, Jack O’Neill 0-2, Matthew O’Halloran 0-1, Diarmuid Stritch 0-1, Sam Scanlon 0-1.
Offaly: Liam Hoare; Caelum Larkin, James Mahon, Ruairí Kelly; Ter Guinan, Brecon Kavanagh, Donal Shirley; Niall Furlong, Cillian Martin; Conor Doyle, Dan Ravenhill, Leigh Kavanagh; Adam Screeney, Shane Rigney, Cathal Robinson.
Subs: Daniel Hand for Robinson (half-time), Shane Connolly for Martin (60+3).
Clare: Mark Sheedy; Eoghan Gunning, Fionán Treacy, John Cahill; Seán McMahon, James Hegarty, Jamie Moylan; Matthew O’Halloran, Diarmuid Stritch; Michael Collins, Jack O’Neill, James Organ; Sam Scanlon, Oisín Whelan, Cian Neylon.
Subs: Riain McNamara for Treacy (36-38, temp), Piarás Ó Sé for Collins (39), Dylan Keane Hayes for Neylon (57), Riain McNamara for Moylan (60+3), Fred Hegarty for Whelan (60+4).
Referee: Kevin Jordan (Tipperary)