A valiant Kildare just failed to take the final step up into Division 1 hurling as they fell three points short to Offaly in a hard-fought Allianz Hurling League Division 2A final in Portlaoise this afternoon.

While there was no denying Offaly deserved their success, and perhaps it will do Kildare good in the longer term to spend another year in Division 2A, David Herity and his players will look back at a number of factors that contributed to an agonising loss in front of a huge Lilywhite following.

First and foremost, when they were on top in a pulsating first half, they did not capitalise enough on their possession advantage. Hungrily gobbling up Offaly’s long puck outs they managed an incredible twenty-four shots at the posts but only turned around ahead by three points, 1-11 to 0-11 at the interval.

Secondly, Kildare made too many unforced errors, particularly coming out of defence, and tended to take too many risky hand-passing options when discretion may have been the better part of valour.

Thirdly, management may rue their own tactical approach. They started 15-on-15 and roared into a 1-4 to 0-1 lead but when Offaly dropped Adrian Cleary back to sweep in front of an under-pressure defence, Kildare mirrored that with Brian Byrne coming back into defence. Cleary cleaned up at the back, although Herity afterwards thought his side made Cleary’s job look easy.

Defeat certainly wasn’t down to a lack of effort, fitness or physical strength from the Kildare side, all of which augurs well for the future.

Even when Offaly’s second half dominance shot them into a five-point lead by the hour mark, Herity’s men showed great character to bring that gap down to within one score and with the last puck of the game Paddy McKenna went for broke with a close-range free that Offaly counterpart Stephen Corcoran was equal to.

After an early Cleary point, Kildare had exploded into life with 1-4 in a five-minute spell that rocked the Offaly men. Cathal McCabe got the opening score and Rian Boran added to that with a second before Gerry Keegan crashed a superb effort to Corcoran’s net after six minutes.

With Offaly rattled, Cathal Dowling might have made more of an opportunity for a second goal a minute later, but he was hooked and his follow up for a point went wide off the posts. Kildare remained in the ascendancy though with further scores from Cian Boran and Declan Flaherty extending their lead to six points after nine minutes.

It seemed like plain sailing at that stage, but Offaly found their groove, firing five points in a row to narrow the gap to a point after 21 minutes with Kildare hitting four wides in a row. It might have been worse had McKenna not pulled off a full-length save from Cillian Kiely.

McCabe ended thirteen barren minutes with a point for Kildare and they continued to keep Offaly at arm’s length with further points from a James Burke free, Flaherty and Brian Byrne, although they had another let-off when Shane Dooley drifted behind the Kildare defence and evaded McKenna but somehow tapped the ball over the bar with the goal gaping.

Kildare finished the half strongly with three points in quick succession from Paul Dolan, Cian Boran and Flaherty to lead 1-11 to 0-11.

That gap was soon down to a single point on the restart as bustling centre-forward Kiely and corner-forward David Nally pointed for Johnny Kelly’s side. Johnny Byrne, from a superb crossfield pass from Flaherty, and Kiely exchanged points before Burke robbed Offaly substitute Paddy Delaney to register what turned out to be Kildare’s last point for eighteen minutes.

Offaly turned up the power during that spell, although Kildare created some of their own problems when failing to clear their lines while they also shot three successive wides as Offaly fired over seven unanswered points, five from ace sharpshooter Eoghan Cahill, an inspirational effort from Killian Sampson and a sideline from Nally which McKenna could only deflect over the bar.

That gave Offaly a 0-21 to 1-13 lead with ten minutes of normal time remaining but Rian Boran, one of Kildare’s defensive stars on the day along with Niall Ó Muineacháin and Simon Leacy, came forward for his second score and after another Cahill score, Kildare began to claw back the gap.

Young David Qualter was an impactful substitute, and he opened his account on 66 minutes before Burke put a difficult day on placed balls behind him with two frees to narrow the deficit to just two points in the first minute of injury time.

Kildare’s failure to clear their lines provided Killian Sampson with his second score but another point from Qualter made it 1-18 to 0-23 in the third of five signalled extra-time minutes.

It wasn’t to be though. Brian Duignan, son of Offaly chairman Michael stretched the lead back out to three points before Leacy drove at the Faithful defence to earn a 20-metre free. McKenna came up to take it and got plenty behind it, but Corcoran was able to bat clear to confirm their place in the top flight for 2024.  

KILDARE: Paddy McKenna; Niall Ó Muineacháin, Simon Leacy, Cian Shanahan; Paul Dolan 0-1, Rian Boran 0-2, Coran Boran; Johnny Byrne 0-1, Cathal McCabe 0-2; James Burke 0-4 (3fs), Gerry Keegan 1-0, Cian Boran 0-2; Brian Byrne 0-1, Declan Flaherty 0-3, Cathal Dowling. Subs: Jack Travers for Dolan 49, Mark Delaney for Flaherty 58, John McKeon for Shanahan 61, David Qualter 0-2 for Burke (temp 63-65), Qualter for Cian Boran 65.

OFFALY: Stephen Corcoran; Dara Maher, Ciaran Burke, Ben Conneely; David King, Jason Sampson, Killian Sampson 0-2; Joey Keenaghan, Jack Clancy; Eoghan Cahill 0-11 (6fs, 1’65), Cillian Kiely 0-4, Adrian Cleary 0-2; David Nally 0-3 (1 s/l), Shane Dooley 0-1, Paddy Clancy. Subs: Charlie Mitchell for Dooley HT, Paddy Delaney for J Clancy 45, Brian Duignan 0-1 for P Clancy 48, Liam Langton for Keenaghan 67.

Referee: Thomas Walsh (Waterford).

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