Galway ease past Offaly to reach Leinster SHC final
GALWAY 2-19 OFFALY 2-9
THE clock read two minutes and 25 seconds and Offaly hurlers led Galway by 1-2 at a wind-lashed, rain-sodden O'Moore Park on Sunday.
It was a dream start to the Leinster SHC semi-final for the rank outsiders, but harsh reality would eventually intrude.
By the final whistle, Galway had stretched to a ten-point victory but it's fair to say this scratchy performance won't leave Kilkenny quaking in their Leinster final boots on July 3.
Moreover, Galway angst over the performance is bound to be exacerbated by the sending-off which is set to rule out Conor Cooney for the provincial decider.
Cooney had been enjoying a profitable day – with 1-3 from play to his name – before it turned sour on 59 minutes. The Galway forward was already carrying a yellow from first half injury time, but referee Colm Lyons brandished a straight red after consulting with one of his linesmen.
That levelled the playing numbers, as Offaly had been down to 14 since the 28th minute dismissal of skipper Colin Egan, and it came just two minutes after Shane Dooley had buried a penalty to reduce the deficit to six points.
Not that the outcome was ever in second half doubt, and 14-man Galway riposted with four unanswered points in the home straight.
Back to that surreal start. It was as if Galway minds were still somewhere west of the Shannon as Joe Bergin pounced for an Offaly goal straight from the throw-in, the net dancing inside 15 seconds. Less than a minute later, Dooley's shot fizzed just over and when wing-back Dermot Mooney responded to an early yellow by pointing in Offaly's next attack, they led by five.
In mitigation, Galway were facing into the teeth of an extremely stiff wind and they belatedly found some rhythm to draw level in the 13th minute through a Niall Burke goal.
There was a hint of good fortune, as Burke initially failed to gather Cathal Mannion's exquisite angled pass – but the sliotar fell kindly and he pulled to the net.
Offaly again responded to go two clear via the marksmanship of Dooley, only for disciplinary disaster to strike on 28 minutes.
Dooley was leaving the pitch as a blood sub, having shipped an injury to the chin that drew a yellow card for Galway's David Burke and the ire of the Faithful – including Egan, who caught Fergal Moore frontally from the ensuing throw-in.
This ignited a brief melee but, when order was restored, the referee flashed a straight red to the Offaly captain.
His depleted colleagues were still ahead at the break, 1-7 to 1-6, thanks to a Dooley free just before the half-time blow.
But, two minutes after the restart, the second half trend was set when the Offaly defence failed to clear their lines and Cathal Mannion popped a pass to Conor Cooney. With a teammate running clear, he went for goal himself and Galway led for the first time.
They scored the next five points as well to ease seven up, and that lead had stretched to ten before a 1-1 salvo via Bergin and Dooley's penalty raised the merest flicker of a comeback.
It was not to be, but Galway boss Micheál Donoghue will know his team must up the ante in a fortnight to have any chance of toppling the All-Ireland champions.
SCORERS – Galway: J Canning 0-8 (6f, 1 '65'), C Cooney 1-3, N Burke 1-0, P Mannion, David Burke, J Cooney 0-2 each, C Whelan, C Donnellan 0-1 each.
Offaly: S Dooley 1-5 (1-0 pen, 4f), J Bergin 1-1, D Mooney, J Mulrooney, P Murphy 0-1 each.
TEAMS - GALWAY: C Callanan; J Coen, J Hanbury, F Moore; P Mannion, Daithí Burke, A Harte; David Burke, D Glennon; N Burke, J Cooney, C Cooney; C Whelan, J Canning, C Mannion. Subs: C Donnellan for Glennon (47), J Flynn for N Burke (51), A Smith for David Burke (inj 72).
OFFALY: J Dempsey; N Wynne, C McDonald, P Rigney; D Mooney, S Gardiner, D King; P Murphy, S Ryan; S Kinsella, S Dooley, J Mulrooney; K Connolly, J Bergin, C Egan. Subs: K Kelly for Mulrooney (ht), E Nolan for Connolly (ht), P Guinan for Ryan (45), B Conneely for Gardiner (58), S Cleary for Murphy (69).
REF: C Lyons (Cork)