Eoghan McSweeney celebrates at the final whistle after Cork edged out Offaly Bord na Móna O'Connor Park.
Eoghan McSweeney celebrates at the final whistle after Cork edged out Offaly Bord na Móna O'Connor Park.

Allianz FL D2: Cork survive a thriller in Tullamore

CORK                1-21

OFFALY               1-20

On a day of heartstopping action all across the country, arguably the most consequential relegation battle of them all took place in Tullamore, where Cork and Offaly entered into a straight shootout to decide which county would preserve their place in Division Two of the Allianz Football League and with it, to guarantee their place in the All-Ireland championship race later this summer.

And a shootout is exactly what transpired at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park, as the two counties produced an enthralling contest that saw Cork score the last two points of the day to edge a memorable contest by the bare minimum.

Twice it looked as if the home side were dead and buried, and while it will feel like scant consolation this evening, if any at all, Offaly can take credit for coming right back into the contest and putting themselves in a wonderful position with five minutes to play.

They led by two points, were reeled in at 1-19 apiece, then retook the lead through Ruairí McNamee heading into overtime. A high, arcing kick from Cian Kiely crept inside the post for Cork to level matters and with a little over a minute remaining, Offaly tried to force a short kickout and ended up conceding a close range free, tapped over the bar by Stephen Sherlock for his ninth point of the day, to clinch the win.

Since a draw was enough for Cork, Offaly now had to chase a goal and they never came close with a late hit-and-hope ball into the Cork full back line that was easily cleared on the last play of the game.

Cork got off to a dream start in yesterday’s cracker when Colm O’Callaghan fisted over after just 12 seconds, and inside three minutes Cathail O’Mahony hit the net, racing through the Offaly defence to set up his chance.

John Moloney finally got Offaly off the mark after six minutes but Cork’s attack was revelling in one of the most open games of the year, and points from John O’Rourke, O’Callaghan and Brian Hurley’s mark sent them six clear.

Offaly reshuffled the deck, John Moloney dropping back to centre back steadied their ship, and as they have done for the best part of two decades, they leaned heavily on Niall McNamee, and their talisman duly delivered with some majestic points.

Scores were flying in at both ends. O’Rourke and Sherlock hit back for the Rebels, but Niall Darby and Anton Sullivan produced cracking scores as Offaly started to play with purpose. They got a huge shot in the arm when Niall McNamee was fouled for a penalty just before half-time, and Anton Sullivan’s cool finish made it a three-point game at half-time.

Cork surged six clear again after the restart thanks to Sherlock’s brilliant trio of points, but they were to need every bit of it as Offaly took control and dominated the half. Cathal Flynn, Sullivan and another brilliant double from McNamee cut Cork’s lead back to 1-13 to 1-11, before the Rebels capitalised on a couple of errors to double the lead.

Still Offaly kept coming.

Niall and his cousin Rúairí McNamee chipped in with more scores, Keith O’Neill added one after coming off the bench, and Bill Carroll’s magnificent solo run levelled the game for the first time.

A frantic final 10 minutes saw Anton Sullivan take his tally to 1-3 as Niall McNamee swiftly added another from a mark, but they couldn’t quite see it out, as Cork salvaged their season with a second win in succession to escape the drop.

Scorers for Cork: Stephen Sherlock 0-9 (0-4f), Cathal O'Mahony 1-1, Brian Hurley and John O'Rourke 0-3 each, Colm O'Callaghan 0-2, Mattie Taylor, Cian Kiely and Blake Murphy 0-1 each.

Scorers for Offaly: Niall McNamee 0-7 (0-2f, 0-2m), Anton Sullivan 1-3 (1-0 pen), Bill Carroll 0-3, Ruari McNamee 0-2, Paddy Dunican (f), Niall Darby, Johnny Moloney, Keith O'Neill and Cathal Flynn 0-1 each.

CORK: Micheál Martin; Kevin Flahive, Kevin O’Donovan, Tommy Walsh; John Cooper, Rory Maguire, Mattie Taylor; Ian Maguire, Colm O’Callaghan; Daniel Dineen, Eoghan McSweeney, John O’Rourke; Stephen Sherlock, Cathal O’Mahony; Brian Hurley. 

Subs: Blake Murphy for McSweeney (48); Cian Kiely for Flahive (53), Mark Cronin for O’Mahony (53), Brian Hartnett for Dineen (59), Fionn Herlihy for O’Rourke (70).

OFFALY: Paddy Dunican; Kieran Dolan, James Lalor, Niall Darby; Lee Pearson, Declan Hogan, Colm Doyle; Cathal Donoghue, Jordan Hayes; Dylan Hyland, Rúairí McNamee, Bill Carroll; Johnny Moloney, Niall McNamee, Anton Sullivan.

Subs: Cathal Flynn for Pearson (23), Keith O'Neill for Donoghue (41), Mark Abbott for Hyland (51), Ciarán Donnelly for Doyle (56), Bernard Allen for Sullivan (69).

REFEREE: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh)