Offaly will dine at the top table of League hurling once again having earned their Division 1 place for 2024 with a battling 0-24 to 1-18 victory against Kildare in O’Moore Park this afternoon.
Kildare were the team on many people’s lips heading into the decider having topped the table in Division 2A with great strides made under former Kilkenny star David Herity, as well as Naas’ rapid rise through the club ranks.
They were left to rue some wasteful shooting in the opening half, despite leading 1-11 to 0-11 at the break with Gerry Keegan grabbing the goal for the Lilies, and that would come back to haunt them.
Offaly played second fiddle for much of the opening half but Johnny Kelly’s side really turned the screw upon the resumption with Eoghan Cahill (0-11, 6f, 0-1 ’65), Cillian Kiely (0-4) and Adrian Cleary (who played as an extra defender and fired over 0-2) to the fore.
Cahill was unerring from place balls, as well as some exquisite efforts from play, as Offaly ground Kildare down in the second half and totally snuffed out their much-vaunted attack.
There was a nervy finale for the winners, however, as Offaly’s greatest supporter Mick McDonagh could barely watch from behind the goal.
McDonagh had his hands over his head in squeaky bum time as Kildare goalkeeper Paddy McKenna had a final chance to level it up from a 21-yard free.
His shot was saved and controlled in one motion by Offaly net minder Stephen Corcoran, though, before he drilled the sliotar out over the terrace in delight as they deservedly held on.
You could see Offaly really wanted this and what it meant to all involved at the final whistle on a weekend where their minors also defeated Kerry (1-15 to 0-6) while their U-20 side – featuring many of last year’s Leinster minor winners – also had a fine win over Westmeath (2-22 to 1-17) with Adam Screeney and Co in fine form.
How the seniors will fare in Division 1 next year is another story given the recent record of promoted sides from 2A in the top tier but there could be a change in the League structure on its way which would greatly help emerging counties like Offaly.
These teams will meet again over the coming weeks as they duke it out for the Joe McDonagh Cup but it was first blood to Offaly.