Offaly triumph in Joe McDonagh Cup final

Joe McDonagh Cup Final


LAOIS 0-26

Kevin Egan at Croke Park

Did Offaly find a way to win, or did Laois butcher a glorious chance to complete what would have been a psychologically devastating win?

Such philosophical matters can be parked, for now at least. Whether it’s a question of Laois profligacy or Offaly resolve, or as is more likely, a heady cocktail with large dollops of each, the fact is that the 2024 Leinster SHC will have Offaly in the mix, and the redemptive journey from back-to-back relegations in 2018 and 2019 is more or less complete.

We say more or less, because it’s not immediately apparent that Offaly will be entirely ready to take on that level of competition, if this game is anything to go by.

When Aaron Dunphy tapped over his eleventh point of the afternoon from a free in the 67th minute, bringing the sides level in a game where Offaly had led by seven points midway through the second half, the Faithful County looked to be out on their feet; doomed, almost.

Laois could argue that they were unlucky not to have been well ahead at that stage. They shot 18 wides in total, 10 in the second half, and failed to convert any of their goal chances, in contrast to Offaly who took two of their three.

Killian Sampson fired over the lead point for Offaly, John Lennon was pinged for overcarrying just when it looked as if he had opened up the Offaly defence, and late points from man of the match Charlie Mitchell and Jack Clancy forced Laois to chase a late goal.

Stephen Maher had a half chance, but his effort from a narrow angle was blocked by Cillian Kiely, and when Laois failed to get the resultant 65 into the danger area, Offaly’s six-year sojourn away from the Leinster championship was brought to an end.

All the momentum from last weekend’s U-20 win seemed to carry through into the start of this game as Cillian Kiely opened the scoring, Brian Duignan sprinted through and found the top corner of the net in the second minute, and U-20 captain Dan Bourke fired over after excellent pressure in the top half of the pitch forced a turnover.

However Laois were about to take control, and there was no mistaking the root cause of their dominance. The midfield pairing of Aidan Corby and Paddy Purcell ran riot, shooting four points from play each and hurling a world of ball through that sector.

Offaly had their full-back line to thank for staying in touch, with Ben Conneely in particular standing out as he won a series of contested possessions, ensuring that Laois were kept at arm’s length. Cathal King – another of the U-20 heroes – was also impressive in the other corner, but the step up to senior company proved a lot tougher for Adam Screeney and Donal Shirley, who made some positive plays but struggled to exert their usual influence.

Greater efficiency up front meant Offaly held a narrow half-time lead, 1-13 to 0-15, but as they did in the first half, an explosive start to the second period proved crucial. Oisín Kelly drove at goal and placed a low shot into the bottom corner within 20 seconds, and after the two sides traded frees, three points in succession from Mitchell, Eoghan Cahill and Killian Sampson pushed the lead right out.

Brian Duignan added a sublime effort from the left hand sideline in between long distance strikes from Aaron Dunphy and Ian Shanahan, but errors were creeping into Offaly’s play, and up front it was only Sampson and Mitchell that were holding their own.

Laois will regret their string of missed chances however. James Duggan put one narrow-angled goal effort into the side netting and had a fresh air swing when he attempted to double on a pass from Pádraig Delaney, Purcell clipped the crossbar with a thunderous drive from 12 metres out and perhaps the greatest chance of all was when Stephen Maher robbed David King in the right corner but didn’t spot the easy pass to Aaron Dunphy in the middle, instead shooting from a very tight angle and allowing Troy to make an easy save.

When Laois rallied in the fourth quarter, it looked like it mightn’t matter. Instead it made all the difference in the world, as Offaly had one last burst in them and it was all they needed.

Scorers for Offaly: Brian Duignan 1-4, Eoghan Cahill 0-7 (0-5f), Charlie Mitchell 0-4, Oisín Kelly 1-0, Cillian Kiely 0-2, Killian Sampson 0-2, Adam Screeney 0-1, Dan Bourke 0-1, Cathal King 0-1, Jack Clancy 0-1.

Scorers for Laois: Aaron Dunphy 0-11 (0-6f, 0-2 65s), Patrick Purcell 0-5, Aidan Corby 0-4, James Duggan 0-1, Tomás Keyes 0-1, Fiachra C Fennell 0-1, Liam O’Connell 0-1, Ian Shanahan 0-1, Ross King 0-1.

Offaly: Mark Troy; Ben Conneely, Ciarán Burke, Cathal King; David King, Cillian Kiely, Donal Shirley; Jason Sampson, Eimhin Kelly; Killian Sampson, Dan Bourke, Eoghan Cahill; Charlie Mitchell, Brian Duignan, Adam Screeney.

Subs: Oisín Kelly for E Kelly (30), Colin Spain for Screeney (55), Jack Clancy for Cahill (67), Sam Bourke for D Bourke (70).

Laois: Enda Rowland; Diarmaid Conway, Ryan Mullaney, Ian Shanahan; Tom Cuddy, Pádraig Delaney, Liam O’Connell; Aidan Corby, Patrick Purcell; Fiachra C Fennell, Aaron Dunphy, David Dooley; James Duggan, Jer Quinlan, Tomás Keyes.

Subs: Stephen Maher for Fennell (42), Donnchadh Hartnett for O’Connell (44), Ross King for Duggan (46), Willie Dunphy for Keyes (60), John Lennon for Purcell (70+1).

Referee: Colm McDonald (Antrim).