Kevin Egan reports from Netwatch Cullen Park
The Oneills.com U-20 hurling championship continues to provide incredible, memorable occasions and tonight was certainly no exception, as Offaly edged out Wexford in a thrilling Leinster final, with Adam Screeney and Cian Byrne lighting up Netwatch Cullen Park with some wonderful scores.
In the end it was Screeney’s second half goal, squeezed in from a tight angle, that saw the Faithful County home, though it took an incredible collective effort for the midlanders to maintain their lead through just under half an hour with team captain Charlie Mitchell off the pitch due to a second yellow card.
That goal, struck in the 42nd minute, gave Offaly their biggest lead of the game at three points, and it’s a measure of quite how tight this final was throughout that neither side ever led by more than a single score.
With a huge majority of the capacity crowd behind them, Offaly exploded into the game, and after conceding the first point to Corey Byrne Dunbar, they played some wonderfully clever, accurate hurling that led to Screeney, Charlie Mitchell and Cathal King all potting scores.
Wexford settled well however, and imposed themselves on the game at midfield and half-back. They created some good openings through strong running across midfield and into the scoring zone, and while their accuracy wasn’t always what manager Keith Rossiter would have liked, they retook the lead midway through the half when Byrne fired over two frees from midfield in quick succession.
For the second quarter in particular however, it was impossible to do anything but be mesmerised by the majestic brilliance of Adam Screeney. Having already fired over one point off his left from out by the right corner flag, he duly added another from the same spot off his right, and was the key factor in Offaly taking an 0-11 to 0-9 lead into the interval.
A fine score on the run by Seán Rowley straight off the throw in signalled Wexford’s intent and they were soon back on level terms, but they just couldn’t quite get the lead score as Offaly always seemed to be able to come up with a big point under pressure. Dan Bourke and Conor Doyle stepped up with outstanding, hard-earned points, and even after Mitchell was dismissed due to a second yellow card, Offaly rarely let Wexford take full advantage of the second yellow card.
The Faithful men were always going to need a bit of extra cushion however, and they got that when incredible hard work from Dan Bourke and Cormac Egan set up Screeney, and the mercurial corner forward duly whipped the ball across Derry Mahon and into the bottom corner for the game’s decisive score.
Wexford had plenty of craft of their own and with Conor Foley driving them forward with an excellent display in the half-back line, Luke Murphy, Cillian Byrne, JJ Twamley and of course Cian Byrne picked off great points. With the clock winding down, a free in the 59th minute drew them level, and at that stage it looked like Wexford were marginally the more likely winners, or else extra-time would be on the cards.
The record books will show that Adam Screeney scored two of the last three points, and he also set up the other for Dan Ravenhill, but at this stage of the game, it wasn’t about craft, but about simply finding ways to win those physical contests.
Collective tackling forced a Wexford player to handle the ball on the ground for the lead score, then Screeney got in a vital touch as Wexford tried to play out with a short puckout from the restart, allowing Dan Ravenill to swoop in and gather to push Offaly two clear.
Cian Byrne’s 14th point of the night, his tenth free, set up a dramatic final minute, but again it came down to a ruck ball, and this time it was Cormac Egan who came up with the possession, sending Dan Bourke away. Bourke drove at goal and was ultimately fouled right in front of the posts, allowing Screeney to fire the ball over and usher in incredible scenes of celebration, with Offaly now confirmed as Cork’s opponents in what’s sure to be one more incredible contest in this enthralling competition.
Scorers for Offaly: Adam Screeney 1-12 (0-8f, 0-1 65), Dan Ravenhill 0-3 (0-1f), Conor Doyle 0-2, Dan Bourke 0-2, Charlie Mitchell 0-1, Cathal King 0-1.
Scorers for Wexford: Cian Byrne 0-14 (0-10f), Cillian Byrne 0-2, Corey Byrne Dunbar 0-1, Darragh Carley 0-1, Seán Rowley 0-1, Luke Murphy 0-1, JJ Twamley 0-1, Dylan Purcell 0-1.
Offaly: Mark Troy; Patrick Taaffe, James Mahon, Brecon Kavanagh; Luke Watkins, Sam Bourke, Ter Guinan; Colin Spain, Cathal King; Dan Bourke, Dan Ravenhill, Conor Doyle; Adam Screeney, Charlie Mitchell, Cormac Egan.
Subs: Barry Egan for King (55).
Wexford: Derry Mahon; Simon Roche, Eoin Whelan, Darragh Kehoe; Conor Foley, Darragh Carley, Michael Dundon; Seán Rowley, Conor Murphy; Cian Byrne, Luke Murphy, Corey Byrne-Dunbar; Cillian Byrne, Shamey O’Hagan, Jack Redmond.
Subs: Dylan Purcell for C Murphy (23), JJ Twamley for Redmond (half-time), Darragh Farrell for Dundon (48), Oisín Pepper for L Murphy (56).
Referee: Thomas Gleeson (Dublin)