JUST goes to show what difference he makes. Niall McNamee didn’t feature when Offaly crashed out of the Leinster senior football championship to Wexford – and they suffered a surprise defeat.
he 36-year-old returned to the Faithful fold in Bellefield this afternoon and tallied 1-5, including the all-important 54th minute goal that propelled John Maughan’s men to a nerve-shredding one-point win in this highly entertaining Tailteann Cup preliminary round clash.
Victory, by the narrowest of margins, ensures a home tie against Wicklow next Sunday whereas Wexford’s year is over before we even reach the end of May.
Shane Roche’s underdogs can still take huge credit, even in defeat, and two injury-time points from Kevin O’Grady and a Donal Shanley free kept them in the hunt right to the end.
But Offaly retained possession from the next short kickout, and managed to play keep ball deep in defence until referee Maurice Deegan called time.
This Enniscorthy rematch came just a month after Wexford’s eye-catching victory in the Leinster championship, but the challenge of beating the Faithful twice in quick succession was amplified by the extent of change in Offaly’s line-up.
Maughan made three late changes to his programme team, and the introduction of talisman Niall McNamee and his cousin Ruairí McNamee, along with Keith O’Neill, meant that he retained just seven of the team that started the last day.
By contrast, Roche had 11 survivors from that earlier Wexford Park clash, but the loss of skipper Martin O’Connor to a groin injury robbed the home side of a key defender.
Yet by half-time, having faced the elements, the Wexford boss must have been well satisfied to see his team only trailing by 1-7 to 1-5 – and with every chance to push on.
Even more impressive was how they recovered from the concession of an 11th minute goal from Diarmuid Egan, whose rebound crashed off the underside of the bar and just over the line, all after Bill Carroll’s initial effort had been saved by Darragh Brooks.
But Wexford responded with a superbly worked goal of their own in the 16th minute, O’Grady and Michael Furlong combining for Dylan Furlong to bury an angled shot past Paddy Dunican.
That left the sides level and, even though the livewire Anton Sullivan and skipper Johnny Moloney hit back with fine points, the home side continued to trouble Offaly’s defence and almost engineered two more goals shortly before the break.
Crucially, however, Ben Brosnan’s effort was smothered by Dunican when he might have been better advised to pass inside, and then Glen Malone’s goalbound fisted effort was cleared off the line by corner-back Lee Pearson.
And when Pearson struck for a brilliant 39th minute goal, following incisive approach work from the McNamee cousins, Offaly led by five and looked to have regained the initiative.
Typical of this roller-coaster contest, however, Wexford were back within a point after 48 minutes when Eoghan Nolan’s speculative effort caught in the wind and fell in the goalmouth, where Niall Hughes got the all-important fisted touch for his side’s second goal.
When the same player pointed on 52 minutes, the teams were level at 2-10 apiece – but then Cian Donohoe laid the groundwork for McNamee’s clinically dispatched goal, two minutes later. And ultimately that proved enough, just.
Offaly: N McNamee 1-5 (3f, 1m), D Egan, L Pearson 1-0 each, A Sullivan 0-2, K O’Neill, J Moloney, B Carroll, N Darby (f) 0-1 each.
Wexford: N Hughes 1-1, D Furlong 1-0, B Brosnan 0-3 (1m, 1f), K O’Grady, E Nolan 0-2 each, G Malone, E Porter, D O’Toole, M Rossiter, D Shanley (f) 0-1 each.
OFFALY – P Dunican; L Pearson, D Hogan, N Darby; R Egan, J Moloney, C Donohoe; B Carroll, J Hayes; R McNamee, D Egan, A Sullivan; J Bryant, N McNamee, K O’Neill.
Subs: C Flynn for D Egan (ht), C McNamee for Bryant (48), M Abbott for R Egan (63), D Hyland for Sullivan (68), K Dolan for Pearson (inj 70).
WEXFORD – D Brooks; M Furlong, E Porter, G Sheehan; P Hughes, G Malone, D Furlong; L Coleman, N Hughes; D O’Toole, K O’Grady, A Tobin; S Ryan, E Nolan, B Brosnan.
Subs: D Shanley for Tobin (45), M Rossiter for Ryan (45), T Byrne for O’Toole (61), C Hughes for Brosnan (66), N Doyle for Nolan (68).
REF – M Deegan (Laois)