Offaly Lose Out In Semi-Final After Extra-Time
Leinster SFC Semi-Final: Louth 0-27, Offaly 2-15
By Kevin Egan
Louth are back in the Leinster SFC final for the first time since 2010 after they overcame Louth by three points after extra-time at Croke Park.
For the second week in succession, they had to dig deep to overcome midlands opposition – however while their quarter-final win over Westmeath saw them retrieve an eight-point deficit, this time they had the game in the palm of their hands, lost it when Offaly rallied in the last ten minutes of normal time, before dominating extra-time, outscoring Offaly by 0-10 to 1-01 in the additional 20 minutes.
Perhaps it was the superior conditioning that they’ve developed under the guidance of the All-Ireland winning combination of Gavin Devlin and Mickey Harte on their coaching ticket, or perhaps it was the big-match experience and know-how that they developed over an impressive Division Two campaign in the Allianz League, but there was no doubt that from the middle of the second half, Louth looked like the fitter, stronger team.
However they faltered in front of the finish line, and Offaly will rue a couple of big misses in second half stoppage time that could have sent them back to Croke Park in a fortnight’s time.
Had that happened, it would have been against the head, to a considerable degree. There was little between the sides in the first half in general play, but Louth still looked sharper in the opening 35, even though it ended level.
Ciarán Downey was the star man for the Wee County, racking up five of his seven points in that period, while Dylan McKeown also picked off two excellent scores for the men in red.
Offaly relied on their defensive strength to win turnovers, and also needed a wonderful goal from Peter Cunningham, assisted by Anton Sullivan, to get to the interval level at 1-06 to 0-09.
For the first 15 minutes of the second half, it started to look as if things might be falling into place for the Faithful County. There was greater efficiency and craft to their play, and while Louth delivered some rash wides, excellent points from Cian Farrell and Rúairí McNamee edged Offaly two points clear.
This was the point however where they played their trump card, which was their midfield dominance.
Kickout after kickout, Louth pushed up on Offaly, and the squeeze yielded a bountiful harvest. Tommy Durnin and Conor Early were exceptional in the kickout battle as well as chipping over a couple of scores, with James Califf coming up from goal to support, and in the space of ten minutes they rattled off six points unanswered.
Craig Lennon and Liam Jackson added a punch off the bench that Offaly didn’t have, and the game could have been wrapped up when Daire McConnon and Sam Mulroy both had attempts on goal on the hour mark, but first Ian Duffy and then Declan Hogan were able to intervene for Offaly to keep them alive.
With Louth wobbling, taking some poor shots on goal, Dylan Hyland fired over a couple of majestic scores and set up a tense finish, and with two of the five additional minutes of stoppage time played, Anton Sullivan stepped in off the left wing to bisect the uprights and level the game.
Peter Cunningham claimed the resultant kickout and set up a match-winning chance for Cian Farrell, but the Edenderry man pushed his kick wide of the posts, and 20 extra minutes was now confirmed.
A point from Bill Carroll to get overtime underway suggested Offaly, who now had very few experienced players on the field, might be able to carry on their momentum.
However Louth were fitter, stronger, and they now seemed to be able to break tackles and run through Offaly at will.
Sam Mulroy was the main beneficiary as he kicked five of his six points in extra time, while Craig Lennon, Conor Grimes and Niall Sharkey also stepped up with vital scores, ensuring that even after Declan Hogan fired in a goal to reduce the gap briefly to two points, it still never looked like Offaly had the tools to produce a second great escape.
Louth: James Califf; Donal McKenny, Dan Corcoran, Ciarán Murphy; Leonard Grey, Niall Sharkey (0-02), Conall McKeever; Tommy Durnin (0-02), Conor Early (0-02); Paul Matthews, Ciarán Downey (0-07), Conor Grimes (0-02); Ciarán Keenan, Sam Mulroy (0-06, 0-02 frees), Dylan McKeown (0-02).
Subs: Daire McConnon for Keenan (32), Liam Jackson (0-01) for Matthews (half-time), Craig Lennon (0-03) for McKeown (half-time), Peter Lynch for Murphy (46), Anthony Williams for McKeever (64), Ryan Burns for Jackson (full-time), Conall McCaul for McConnon (full-time), McKeever for Corcoran (83), Jackson for McKenny (85), Murphy for Grey (87)
Offaly: Ian Duffy; Declan Hogan (1-00), David Dempsey, Lee Pearson; Cian Donohoe, Peter Cunningham (1-01), Ciarán Donnelly; Jack McEvoy, Conor McNamee; Dylan Hyland (0-05, 0-01 free), Rúairí McNamee (0-03, 0-01 free), Jamie Evans; Cian Farrell (0-02, 0-01 free), Nigel Dunne (0-02, 0-01 free), Anton Sullivan (0-01).
Subs: Joe Maher for Evans (49), Aaron Leavy for C McNamee (56), Bill Carroll (0-01) for Dunne (56), Jack O’Brien for Pearson (61), Jack Bryant for McEvoy (64), Luke Egan for Sullivan (full-time), Nigel Bracken for Donohoe (full-time), McEvoy for R McNamee (full-time), Sahne O’Toole Greene for Donnelly (79), Sullivan for Hyland (80), Aaron Brazil for Cunningham (83)
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).