Allianz HL D1B: Offaly through to quarter-finals
Allianz Hurling League Division 1B
OFFALY 1-21 LAOIS 1-16
By Kevin Egan at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park
Offaly’s resurgence under Kevin Martin continued this afternoon as the Faithful County secured their place in the knockout stages of the Allianz hurling league by comfortably overcoming Laois at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park, racking up a nine-point lead before a flurry of late Laois points reduced the deficit and gave Eamon Kelly’s side some momentum in advance of their crucial clash with Dublin at O’Moore Park next Sunday.
A harsh overnight frost threatened this fixture early in the morning but by the time the rescheduled 1pm throw in time rolled around, the pitch was in good condition and the only outside influence was a sharp breeze that blew down towards the town end of the ground, favouring Laois in the opening half.
Paddy Purcell wasted no time in taking advantage, firing the ball over the crossbar after just ten seconds. The Rathdowney-Errill midfielder has been in scintillating form throughout this campaign and he was a constant threat to the Offaly rearguard, but further up the field the Offaly back line held firm throughout the opening half.
Purcell broke forward to take a pass from Ben Conroy and deliver a stunning finish to the roof of the Offaly net from an incredibly tight angle after 13 minutes, establishing a 1-2 to 0-2 lead, but Offaly slowly and methodically set about reducing the deficit, and soon hit the front through points from Shane Dooley, Joe Bergin, Cillian Kiely and livewire midfielder Thomas Geraghty.
Padraig Lawlor came forward from wing back to fire over one point and set up another for Ross King, but Offaly continued to prove that bit more adept in the physical exchanges, and while they dodged a bullet when Purcell fired the ball over the bar from close range when it looked like a second goal was on, they took an 0-11 to 1-7 advantage into half time.
Ross King and Mark Kavanagh pointed to turn the tables immediately after half time, the latter drawing rapturous applause for a wonderful sideline cut from underneath the stand, but Offaly quickly took over and effectively settled the tie by scoring 1-8 over the next fifteen minutes.
Joe Bergin delivered the killer blow when he outjumped his marker to field a long Pat Camon clearance on the 20 metre line and within a split second he had turned and flashed a powerful shot past Enda Rowland.
Bergin added two more superb points to bring his tally up to 1-4 in a man of the match display from the Seir Kieran man, while Shane Dooley showed great accuracy from dead balls as Offaly moved out of sight.
There was a noticeable dip in intensity from the home side in the closing stages of the contest and Laois had a number of chances to score their second goal of the game – and what would have been their second goal of the league competition as a whole – from close range frees, but the Offaly defence held firm.
Scorers for Offaly: Shane Dooley 0-10 (0-6 frees, 0-1 ’65), Joe Bergin 1-4, Tommy Geraghty 0-2, David O’Toole, Cillian Kiely, Paddy Delaney, David King, Dan Currams 0-1 each.
Scorers for Laois: Paddy Purcell 1-3, Ross King 0-5 (0-4 frees), Willie Dunphy & Mark Kavanagh (0-1 sideline) 0-2 each, Enda Rowland (free), Padraig Lawlor, Neil Foyle and Charles Dwyer 0-1 each.
OFFALY: Eoghan Cahill; Tom Spain, Sean Gardiner, Ben Conneely; Pat Camon, David O’Toole, Paddy Delaney; Tommy Geraghty, David King; Conor Mahon, Cillian Kiely, Colin Egan; Joe Bergin, Shane Dooley, Dan Currams. Subs: Oisin Kelly for Kiely (51), Damien Egan for C Egan (56), James Gorman for Currams (62), Paddy Rigney for Delaney (68), Dermot Shortt for Geraghty (68)
LAOIS: Enda Rowland; Leigh Bergin, Lee Cleere, Donncha Hartnett; Padraig Lawlor, Matthew Whelan, Eric Killeen; Paddy Purcell, James Ryan; Ben Conroy, Charles Dwyer, Willie Dunphy; Ross King, Neil Foyle, Ciarán Comerford. Subs: Colm Stapleton for Hartnett (23), Mark Kavanagh for Comerford (HT), Conor Quinlan for Killeen (41), Cian Taylor for Dunphy (59), Patrick McKane for Foyle (68)
Ref: Justin Heffernan (Wexford)