Croke Park final the big attraction for Offaly boss Maughan. (Pic: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile)
A Croke Park fixture was the big factor in Offaly seeking the go ahead for the Allianz National Football League Division 3 final against Derrry.
While the counties had the option of not playing it – Offaly are playing Louth in the Leinster Senior Football Championship a week later - Offaly and Derry agreed to a fixture on Sunday, provided that it was in Croke Park.
Offaly GAA chairman Michael Duignan and his fellow Offaly man, Leinster Council chairman, Pat Teehan pushed the case for a Croke Park fixture when they met GAA president Larry McCarthy at the National Hurling League game against Wicklow in Baltinglass on Sunday.
McCarthy was there to present the Division 2A Cup to Offaly captain, Ben Conneely. The Cork native who had been living in New York since 1985, was also in Tullamore on Saturday to see Offaly book promotion with a dramatic 1-14 to 0-12 win over Fermanagh in the National Football League semi-final.
By half time of Sunday's runaway win over Wicklow, the Offaly officials had received word that the GAA had agreed to the request for a Croke Park fixture.
Even though the win over Fermanagh had secured promotion to Division 2, Offaly manager John Maughan stated afterwards that he would like a final to be played.
“I would gladly, if it was in Croke Park. I'd say a lot of those Offaly boys have never been in Croke Park, never mind playing there. It would be a nice price,” he said.
Maughan was in an understandably happy mood after Offaly's win, though they had been made to sweat for it. They were coasting to victory when they led by 0-14 to 0-7 inside the last twenty minutes. Fermanagh staged a thrilling recovery and it took a late Mark Abbott goal to get Offaly across the line.
The Mayo man believed that Offaly could have won more comfortably.
“We have had games like that in the past when we were hanging on and lost but we hung on and won. I mean if we had taken some of our goal chances, we hit the post three times I think, if we had bagged one of those earlier on, we might have taken the sting out of Fermanagh. Fermanagh were here on merit. I know they had three points out of their three games. They had a man sent off which gave us a numerical advantage and that was telling as well.”
He was not surprised at Fermanagh's fight back.
“It was typical of Fermanagh. I was involved in them 20 years ago and they have great heart. They got a purple patch in the second quarter and going down the final stretch. Niall McNamee turned it over and laid it on a plate for Mark Abbott. That was the difference in the end.”
He agreed that there appeared to be little danger when Offaly led by 0-14 to 0-7.
“That is the thing and unfortunately we lost a couple of kick-outs. We were not winning primary possession and the momentum swung in favour of Fermanagh. That happens in sport. It is not an exact science. They got their purple patch and they kicked some good scores. They have a bit of talent around the place.
“This is like our championship. You can see what it means to the families and players. It is just a good day. We have a lot of young talent and lads that want to play for Offaly. I think they will learn more by playing in a higher division. There is good opposition in Division 3 and there is also good opposition in Division 4 but they will improve from playing against better opposition in Division 2. That was always our aspiration and thankfully the league format this year probably suited us. People were suggesting the northern section was a tougher one but Cavan fell on their sword today. I think it is fifteen years since we played Division 2.
“Anton kicked three wonderful scores in the first half. We got a lot of joy coming down the left wing there and kicking great scores. That was certainly easy on the eye and we were in a very good space at halftime.”
Maughan explained that they took off midfielder Eoin Carroll at halftime as he was on a yellow card and tick.
“I was fearful we might end up with fourteen. That was why we rescued the situation.”
A key moment in the game had been the dismissal of Fermanagh's Eoin Donnelly for a second yellow card before half time and their manager, Ryan McMenamin admitted:
“It didn't help matters and it was one of those things when you are on a yellow card, you have to watch yourself. The referee won't give you an extra chance anymore. He is being assessed, everything is being assessed. It was a wee little bit harsh, the second one. I think he could have ticked it and let him away but that is what it is. It can't change now. We are just going to have to look forward and see how we plan for Monaghan.
“The referee makes those calls in the modern game. When I was playing, the referee might give you a tick first and then a yellow card. We thought we could get him to halftime and work on him there but the referee saw it differently. In the modern game, that is the way it is.”
The Tyrone legend blamed Fermanagh's first-half display for their defeat.
“They wanted to put their stamp on it which they did and I think we were just a wee bit too passive. We had a couple of chances but our skill and execution levels let us down a couple of times. Fist passes not hitting the target and it took us about 35 minutes to get up to the speed of the game. The bench made a huge difference for us and we were able to run hard at them.
“We should have got more of a reward but every one of their scores in the first half, bar one, came from us giving the ball away. When you do that at this level, you get punished.
“We played really well in the second half, I think they were out on their feet. We had chances to close the gap, we took some silly shots when we had and gave away a couple of soft scores that we shouldn't have given away. That has been our downfall. It is one of those things, we are proud of their performance in the second half but disappointed we didn't win. We have secured Division 3. We would have liked to have been up in Division 2 and it is a chance missed.”
McMenamin spoke about Offaly's late goal.
“The goal was a killer. We had a chance just before that. Going short was maybe the wrong decision by Sean (McNally, Fermanagh goalkeeper). It put them under pressure. The goal shouldn't have really counted. The first half performance put us too far behind. It was disappointing. We showed what we had when we were down to fourteen.”
A factor in Fermanagh's comeback was their goalkeeper Sean McNally coming out the field and getting on the ball.
“At the sideline, we had worked on it at training and said if this ever happens, this is what we would do. We got him up and he likes to come up the field. It worked and it got us back in the game. It got us on the ball and gave us good momentum.”
“It was one of them performances, we started to turn them over at midfield once we pushed up and when we pressed the kickout. We started giving and going an awful lot better. W started kicking the ball to hand and being a lot better on the ball. Our skill execution in the first half was very good. We had too many passes hitting the ground, we had too many wrong decisions. We missed a couple of frees we should have got but that if life and that is football. We just have to move on with it.
“Congratulations to Offaly. Their first-half performance won it. Unfortunately, our second-half performance, although we might have won it, we didn't do enough.”
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