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By Daire Walsh

Offaly continued their excellent winning run in 2021 with an emphatic 2-39 to 2-17 demolition of Sligo at Markievicz Park on Saturday in Group B of the Christy Ring Cup.

Courtesy of five wins on the bounce - a sequence that saw them amassing an astonishing total of 13 goals and 135 points - Offaly were crowned National Hurling League Division 2A champions. This was the Faithful’s first game in the third-tier championship this year and they progressed to the semi-final of the competition with flying colours.

As ever, Birr ace Eoghan Cahill was the scorer-in-chief for Offaly. He contributed a personal haul of 0-15, including 12 efforts from placed-balls.

Durrow’s Brian Duignan was also in superb form as his six-point salvo made him the top marksman from play for the victors. Liam Langton (0-5) and John Murphy (0-4) also chipped in with multiple scores, while Aidan Treacy and Shane Dooley came away with 1-1 apiece.

Set to turn 35 in September, Dooley remains a high-profile figure in hurling circles. This was his return to the Offaly starting line-up and without the burden of free-taking duties, he will be one to watch for the rest of the summer.

Despite ending the contest 22 points adrift of their opponents, Sligo actually had the game’s top-scorer within their ranks. Full-forward Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch claimed an extraordinary of 2-12 and can certainly feel proud of his display over the course of 70 minutes on home soil.

Having ended their 2020 campaign with a disappointing penalty shootout defeat to Down at the semi-final stage, Offaly are determined to go a couple of steps further in this term.

With two teams in the group, this game was effectively a play-off encounter. Whereas a last-four spot was up for grabs for the winners, there was the consolation of a quarter-final berth for the losers.

While the final scoreline might suggest Offaly were the dominant force from start to finish, Sligo were well in contention during the opening quarter. After rattling the net to leave his side a point behind (0-11 to 1-7) at the first half water break, O’Kelly-Lynch restored parity on 22 minutes.

It was at this juncture that the Faithful discovered their groove, outscoring their Connacht rivals 0-9 to 0-2 to bring an eight-point lead into the interval. A Dooley goal straight from the restart looked set to truly open the floodgates, but a second O’Kelly-Lynch major meant Sligo were only eight points in arrears (1-26 to 2-15) with 20 minutes of normal time left to play.

Offaly were always capable of turning on the style at the drop of a hat, however, with a sequence of 1-13 without reply making it the most convincing of successes.

At Dr Hyde Park, Derry secured a semi-final place with a game to spare after coming from behind to defeat Roscommon by the slenderest of margins (0-19 to 1-15) in Group A.

Trailing 1-11 to 0-8 at the midway stage in the action, the Oak Leaf turned on the style either side of the second half water break to kick-start their campaign in winning fashion.

Next weekend’s third round showdown between Derry and Wicklow will simply determine what side of the semi-final draw each county finds themselves on. Roscommon meet their provincial counterparts Sligo in the last-eight in a fortnight’s time and could well lock horns with Derry later in the competition.

Midfielder Cormac O’Doherty chipped in with six crucial points for Derry, with Se McGuigan (0-3), Conor Kelly and Shea Cassidy (0-2 each) others to make their presence felt. Wing-forward Cathal Dolan contributed seven points for Roscommon and with Connell Kennelly raising a green flag, the primrose and blue were in the ascendancy for large spells.

The sending off of Derry corner-back Darragh McCloskey gave them an additional edge, but the Ulster side persevered and can embark on the remainder of the competition with restored confidence.

Following early points by Cathal Dolan and Ben McGahon, Kennelly shook the net in the fifth-minute to give the Rossies an early buffer. McCloskey's subsequent dismissal looked set to make it a hard day at the office for Derry, but McGuigan (two) and O’Doherty helped them to settle with unanswered scores.

Still, Roscommon were taking the game to their opponents with Darragh Heavey, Dolan, Cathal Kenny and Cillian Egan making key contributions.

Indeed, it took a Gerald Bradley point in stoppage-time to ensure Derry were within six of Roscommon at the break. The hosts had a commanding five-point advantage with 44 minutes on the clock, before the northerners registered 0-7 without reply to suddenly propel themselves into the driving seat.

Mark McGuigan, O’Doherty (three), Se McGuigan, Kelly and Brendan Laverty found the target during this sequence as Roscommon suddenly found themselves chasing the game. Dolan and Heavey raised white flags either side of a similar score by Deaghlan Foley to set-up a gripping finale.

Kelly and Conor Mulry traded scores in injury-time to keep it as a one-point game, but 14-man Derry did enough to claim the spoils.

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