Joe McDonagh Cup final: Carlow 2-30 Offaly 1-32 (after extra time)
Carlow used every ounce of their maturity, physicality and big-game know-how to engineer a win over Offaly in a topsy-turvy Joe McDonagh Cup final on Saturday evening in Croke Park, with Diarmuid Byrne and Chris Nolan the match-winning heroes, striking the last two points to secure their return to the Leinster championship in 2024.
It was a contest that Carlow dominated in the first half, controlled for most of the second, but then seemed to run out of steam, despite playing with an extra man for over 40 minutes.
A youthful and energetic Offaly side outscored their opponents by 0-7 to 0-1 in the last 10 minutes of normal time and again came from two behind to lead by one going into the last couple of minutes of extra time, with Eimhin Kelly and Paddy Clancy giving them huge impetus off the bench.
However the subplot that ran the whole way through this game was Carlow’s accuracy up front, and Offaly’s shocking lack thereof.
That trend followed through to the game’s dramatic finale when Carlow delivered a majestic equaliser through Diarmuid Byrne, and then in the last minute of play, Chris Nolan was able to win his own ball and point from 30 metres out.
With the last possession, Offaly engineered one last chance, only for Adrian Cleary to shoot their 24th wide of the afternoon from midfield.
Despite conceding a first minute goal to Charlie Mitchell, Carlow were utterly dominant in the opening half. Marty Kavanagh led from the front with some excellent route one points, but the real star was Paddy Boland who shot 1-3 in the first half (1-4 in total), and also earned the penalty that led to Kavanagh finding the net and Dara Maher’s straight red for making contact with Boland’s faceguard.
Offaly looked all at sea, and were fortunate to only trail by 2-9 to 1-7 at half-time, such was Carlow’s superiority.
The Dolmen county then kept Offaly at arm’s length for most of the second half, as the Faithful men continued to rack up wides, while at the other end, John Michael Nolan, Kavanagh, Chris Nolan, and in particular James Doyle, were relentlessly accurate.
They couldn’t quite finish it out however, and once Eoghan Cahill crowned Offaly’s late run with the point to make it 2-22 to 1-25 and force extra-time, it seemed like their game to win.
Carlow had other ideas, as Jon Nolan, Diarmuid Byrne and Chris Nolan kept their nerve and found the target with the scores they needed to get their noses in front when it mattered.
Carlow: B Tracey; P Doyle, C Lawlor, J McCullagh; D Byrne (0-1), K McDonald (0-1f), J Kavanagh (0-2); F Fitzpatrick, J Doyle (0-3); J Nolan (0-3), M Kavanagh (1-8, 1-0 pen, 0-5f, 0-1 65), JM Nolan (0-2); C Kehoe (0-2), C Nolan (0-4), P Boland (1-4). Subs: F O’Toole for JM Nolan (63), R Coady for Kavanagh (70+2), N Bolger for McDonald (85), J Tracey for J Nolan (88), C Kavanagh for O’Toole (90).
Offaly: S Corcoran; D Maher, B Conneely, C Burke; D King, J Sampson (0-1), K Sampson (0-2); S Bourke (0-1), J Clancy; B Duignan, Cillian Kiely (0-6, 0-2f), A Cleary (0-3); D Nally (0-5, 0-1 65, 0-1 s/l, 0-1f), E Cahill (0-8, 0-3f), C Mitchell (1-1). Subs: E Kelly (0-2) for Bourke (47), P Clancy (0-2) for Duignan (50), S Dooley for Kiely (58), J Keenaghan (0-1) for Nally (67), P Delaney for Keenaghan (full-time), C Kiely (15th man for ET), Keenaghan for Clancy (75), J Murphy for Keenaghan (85).
Referee: T Walsh (Waterford).