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Offaly victory means so much, Fermanagh suffer 'power cut': Championship talking points

The Faithful county ended their nine-year losing run in Leinster with victory over Longford in Tullamore yesterday.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

1. A victory that means so much in the land of the Faithful

“WE FELT THAT we were on the right road. But it proved that mentally, we’re still a bit weak. Because when the pressure came on, we crumbled, to be totally honest. There’s no point in saying any different. When our backs were to the wall, we didn’t dig deep enough.”

-Pat Flanagan, after Offaly capitulated against Longford in the 2015 Leinster SFC

It was a long time coming.

A good half an hour after Offaly wrapped up their first Leinster championship win in nine years, the players were still out on the field in O’Connor Park , taking it all in. Absorbing the rare feeling of a championship victory.

Peter Cunningham and Michael Brazil celebrate Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

As they mingled with supporters, taking photos and signing autographs, it was clear to see how special this day was.

Veterans Niall McNamee and Niall Smyth were the only two Offaly players on the field to have experienced victory in the province before. It’s hard to believe that it was a first Leinster win for stalwarts like Brian Darby and Alan Mulhall, who have soldiered since for the cause since 2008.

To the outside eye, Offaly’s first provincial victory since they beat Carlow in 2007 might only be a footnote when the end of season honours are dished out. But how it matters in Offaly.

In recent weeks, plenty of airtime and column inches were given to the decline of hurling in the county. It brought about a palpable air of negativity.

As if there wasn’t enough pressure on the Faithful. Offaly simply had to win here and they knew it. Two positive league campaigns would have counted for little if they didn’t scratch that itch in Leinster.

Eoin Rigney and Robbie Smuth Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Longford were gunning for their third straight win against Offaly in the preliminary round of this competition.

When these teams met at the same stage last year, Offaly kicked 10 points on the spin either side of half-time to take a commanding position. They held a seven-point lead with ten minutes to play, before capitulating as Longford scored 11 of the last 12 scores to dump Offaly out.

Flanagan and Mulhall said earlier this week that it wouldn’t happen again.

On Sunday, Longford went 18 minutes in the opening-half without scoring, but there was still an apprehensive feeling around the ground. Last year’s collapse was clearly fresh on the minds.

Mulhall gifted Longford a 6th minute goal with an uncharacteristic blunder. Offaly posted nine points either side of half-time, eerily similar to 12 months ago.

But there was no repeat of 2015. The attitude of the players was right. Niall McNamee and Bernard Allen were clinical. Offaly dropped the hammer and pushed on.

Pat Flanagan celebrates Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Anton Sullivan came off the bench and kick two huge scores to put the final nail in Longford’s coffin.

Offaly won’t win the Leinster title this year, but a victory like that will mean the world to this group of players.

They’ve taken a lot of criticism from within the county, but they signed up again this year and got the monkey off their backs, ending that dreadful run in Leinster.

Flanagan’s goal is simple. He wants to develop a team capable of regularly reaching a Leinster final.

They’ve certainly taken a step in the right direction. The focus will quickly shift to Westmeath in the quarter-final. Flanagan’s former team beat Offaly in the league, delivering a big blow to the Faithful’s promotion hopes.

The challenge for Offaly now is to string together back-to-back performances. While they need to improve to beat Westmeath and take a second scalp, they have every chance.

Offaly are still a long way off reaching a Leinster final, but beating Longford was a damn good way to start.

***

Brian Kavanagh looks on as his penalty hits the woodwork Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

2. Brian Kavanagh learns how cruel sport can be

You could see the pain etched on Brian Kavanagh’s face when he was called ashore after 59 minutes in O’Connor Park.

He kicked five points in Longford’s win last year, but there was no second coming for Kavanagh on Sunday.

The Kilmacud Crokes forward learned a lesson about the harsh realities of sport. Nothing went right for him.

Just as it seemed Longford were getting to grips with the home challenge after the first quarter, Kavanagh missed a free in front of the posts and dropped his next one short. With it went Longford’s momentum.

His penalty miss in the second-half put paid to any chance of Denis Connerton’s team repeating last year’s heroics.

Robbie Smith and James McGivney scored 1-9 between them and still finished on the losing team.

Not that anybody Offaly is feeling sorry for them. Nine years of hurt does that to you.

***

Sean Quigley celebrates scoring a late goal Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

3. Sleepwalking almost costs Fermanagh

When Tomás Corrigan pinged over a scarcely believable point  from a sideline 13 metres out, the Fermanagh crowd rubbed their eyes in disbelief. 60 seconds later he pulled another rabbit out of the hat. Some position. Same result.

The crowd of 9,124 were treated to a dominant Fermanagh display in the first-half. They led by seven at the break and Antrim had yet to trouble the scoreboard from play. Things were looking rosy for the hosts.

But Fermanagh were almost unrecognisable when they trotted out for the second half. The personnel was the same but they left any urgency behind them in the dressing room.

By the time Sean Quigley slid home a goal on 68 minutes, the home support exhaled a collective sigh of relief.

Pete McGrath aptly described Fermanagh’s second-half aberration as a “major power cut.” It’s unclear what exactly disconnected at half-time, but Fermanagh’s attempt to sleepwalk to victory almost cost them.

Any hint of a similar lapse when they face Donegal in the quarter-final, and the Lakeland county will find themselves in the qualifiers quicker than you can say “Michael Murphy.”

***

Ruairí Corrigan with Matt Fitzpatrick and Niall Delargy Source: Presseye/Andrew Paton/INPHO

4. Start of football championship a slow-burner

Usually at this time of year we’re treated to an early summer showdown in the Ulster preliminary round. It typically sets the juices flowing and kicks-off the championship in style.

Antrim-Fermanagh was never going to hit the heights that Donegal-Tyrone did last year. It left us with an underwhelming start to the summer.

Laois-Wicklow, Carlow-Louth and Offaly-Longford all opened their campaigns in the Leinster SFC. To be blunt, it’s a competition we already know Dublin will win easily.

Where’s the romance in that?

You mightn’t have even heard about the first game of Gaelic football’s flagship competition if New York hadn’t ran Roscommon so close in the Connacht SFC preliminary round.

Without opening up another debate on championship structures, it’s a pity we’ll have to wait until the August Bank Holiday weekend before we see the country’s top sides pitted against one another.

5. Tommy Walsh finds the net again

One piece of GAA news you might have missed: Tommy Walsh scored a goal for Kerins O’Rahilly in the Kerry county championship on Sunday.

He’s now scored a goal in both of O’Rahilly’s championship games this month.

Removed form the glare of the national spotlight, Walsh is hoping to find enjoyment in his football again. It can’t have been an easy decision for him to step away and you’d imagine he enjoyed finding the net twice in as many weeks.

The son of seven-time All-Ireland champion Sean Walsh clearly felt frustrated at his lack of playing time under Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Now he finds himself in an environment where he’s not dealing with the constant negativity inside his own head, Walsh could flourish.

O’Rahilly’s might have lost, but Walsh will continue to improve.

Keep an eye out for more goals in the future. Hopefully this is the start.

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