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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Tribesmen tear Offaly to shreds

Dreadful start from Faithful sets tone as Galway flex their attacking muscle to progress

SCORE early and score often. It seems to be Galway's maxim at the moment, one which has served them kindly in the formative steps of Anthony Cunningham's reign in the west.

And when you have the calibre of forwards possessed by the Tribesmen ... why not?

"We would have a lot of confidence in our forwards," offered Cunningham after his starting six had torn a bemused and shaken Offaly rearguard to tiny shreds for a return of 5-23 in Portlaoise.

Still, the concession of 3-15 will be a worry in light of the fact that the forward line of their next, as yet unknown, opposition is certain not to be as centered on one man as Offaly's was yesterday on Shane Dooley.

Two long, rudimentary balls in under a minute at the start of the match let Conor Cooney in for a brace of quick goals and even with all the fight and pride with which Offaly are synonymous, the psychological effects of trailing 2-0 to 0-0 after just six minutes of your Championship opener are surely scarring.

"It wasn't part of the plan," smiled Ollie Baker ruefully as he considered his team's early hara-kiri act, a careless and damaging beginning which had no happy ending.

Against a team with as dangerous and skillful forwards as Galway, any and all contingency plans must revolve around protecting one's own net and those concessions killed Offaly long before they would, in other circumstances, probably have perished anyway.

"It was suicidal defending for the first 15 minutes," Baker conceded.

"And Galway got goals. It was just defenders not standing up, not turning the man backwards and once they got past us...," the Clareman trailed off, the unsaid part being patently obvious to anyone who had witnessed the cut, poise and ambition of the Galway attack.

Conversely, Offaly's only real game-breaker was Dooley.

The Tullamore man is well used to leading the Faithful line and yesterday, he was razor sharp, claiming 2-7 (1-4f, 0-1 '65') for himself but against a Galway defence with greater muscle and impressive collective zeal, significant contributions from elsewhere were missing.

Meanwhile, Damien Hayes, Cyril Donnellan, David Burke and Joe Canning were taking up where Cooney had left off, trading places and ghosting into space akin to the Tipp forward line in last year's Munster final massacre.

It meant the Offaly defence never got time to settle on any particular man, although David Kenny will want to quickly forget his own afternoon.

The captain was whipped off after 41 minutes after an early 2-3 had come directly off him, but he was merely the man unfortunately positioned in the eye of the storm.



Miscued

After 10 minutes, the scoreline read 3-1 to 1-1, Burke responding in kind to Dooley's goal after a miscued clearance from James Skehill but credit to Offaly, they dug in to score five points without reply in a stirring riposte midway through the first half.

"Take the early goals away from it, we hurled with them toe-to-toe," Baker mused. "I know you can't cancel out the goals but we were every bit as good as them for the first 33 minutes.

"When we got it back to four points we missed a couple of chances. It's a psychological barrier and if we had got within three points at half-time it would have taken an awful lot of their artillery but we had a couple of bad wides just before half-time and they went down and got a goal."

This time it was Hayes who raised the green flag, an early contender for goal of the season, and the final stroke in a sumptuous move involving Cooney and the perpetually-in-motion Donnellan.

At 4-11 to 1-10 at half-time, the rest was largely academic, although Cunningham will be concerned about their large concession rates in each of their Leinster Championship matches so far.

Between the Westmeath and Offaly games, they have shipped 7-27, a total partly put down to a lack of concentration when both games were won but against Kilkenny or Dublin, a potential weak point.

"We would be disappointed with that," Cunningham acknowledged.

"We have to be honest about that and that is something that we will have to work on.

"James Skehill is coming back from a long injury as well and he will benefit from the game as well as a few others out there.

"There is always something but that is the way the game is gone. There is a lot of goals in most of the matches," added Cunningham.

Such soft spots do look to be few and far between, however.

Iarla Tannian was a centre of productivity in midfield and while they sparkled brightly up front, Canning - in particular - should have been a little greedier on the odd occasion when the chance for goals opened up.



Closer

"You can only play what is in front of you, but today would have been a step-up for us and you would hope to improve," said Cunningham, who added that the Leinster final fixture might not yet be the pairing the hurling world and its hurling mother expects.

"Dublin will be a lot closer than people will give them credit for," he added.

"Anthony Daly has trained them all year with this match in mind and they have a lot of experienced guys back. There will be a fierce battle here in Portlaose next Saturday night and I think we might wander down and have a look."

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