KEVIN EGAN previews this weekend’s Allianz HL clash between Offaly and Laois, and looks forward to next week’s Leinster U21 FC tie between Offaly and Wexford.
It’s now been 42 years since Laois have recorded a championship victory over Offaly in hurling, though there were more than a few close calls in that time, particularly around about the time of Offaly’s breakthrough in 1980.
However, the O’Moore County have had much more success when the two sides have met in league competition, most famously when Laois produced a one-point victory in Birr in 2004 to send Offaly down to the equivalent of today’s Division 2A. Considering the time of year and the recent history of league games between the two counties, Laois will travel to Tullamore in high spirits and genuinely confident of their chances.
All this makes it even more important that Offaly approach this game with the right attitude and that the team and management walk the fine line between overconfidence and nervousness.
Both sides have been heavily depleted by key injuries; however, the most encouraging aspect of Offaly’s Walsh Cup campaign and subsequent string of challenge matches was the unearthing of a good level of depth in the panel. Historically, if Offaly played Galway in any fixture and both sides were short over half their starting team, Galway would romp home - instead Offaly truthfully could and should have won the tie between the two counties at O’Connor Park.
Recent minor results would suggest that in five or six years time, Laois will have the upper hand on Offaly when it comes to depth, but that time is yet to come. For now, Offaly look far better equipped to handle the absence of key players like David Kenny, Shane Dooley and Derek Morkan than Laois are to operate without Cahir Healy, Zane Keenan and Willie Hyland, so on that basis, there is no excuse for anything less than a win to get this Allianz Hurling League campaign up and running.
Upcoming fixtures against Wexford, Cork, Antrim and Limerick represent great opportunities to get into the winning habit and to secure meaningful victories that will give the squad a real sense of confidence in advance of the championship. However, it’s very hard to imagine Offaly travelling to Wexford or Cork and picking up a result if they don’t get off the mark with a solid victory here.
A large margin might be tough to obtain given the incredible level of rainfall that we’re experiencing this week. However, any manner of victory should be enough to give the team confidence in advance of what should be a fascinating trip to Wexford in round two.
Leinster U21 FC: Wexford v Offaly
Trips to Wexford are becoming all too frequent for Offaly supporters this year and there will be yet another next Wednesday, when the under-21 footballers travel to Taghmon for the first round of the Leinster championship.
Three years ago, this Offaly minor team showed promise in the Leinster minor league and in their Leinster championship first round win over Wicklow, before a strong Kildare team came to O’Connor Park and crushed that optimism in no uncertain terms. However, Wexford showed little or nothing in their 1-16 to 0-3 defeat to Meath that year and results for them since then haven’t been a whole lot better either.
On that basis, Offaly should be well poised to advance in this fixture. However results from the Hastings Cup weren’t encouraging while the logistics of a lengthy midweek trip of almost a hundred miles each way adds to the difficulty here.
As if that wasn’t enough, a hamstring injury sustained by Luke Kelly in last Sunday’s league clash has further reduced the options available to Emmet McDonnell, so a draw that looked like a good opportunity to record a championship victory has turned into a 50/50 tie at best.
It’s not that there isn’t plenty of senior experience within the squad, even aside from the absent Luke Kelly. Peter Cunningham and Eoin Carroll have become regular starters with the seniors, while Joseph O’Connor, Darragh Corbett, Joe Maher and Conor McNamee have also got plenty of playing time with Offaly over the last twelve months.
However in general, U21 squads tend to do best when they have their own management team, and that trend has certainly been borne out in Offaly. Paschal Kelleghan had plenty of run-ins with senior management in his time at the helm of the U21 squad a couple of seasons ago, but those championship victories over Meath and Kildare stand out like a sore thumb in what’s been a desperately lean time for Offaly at this level otherwise.
More than anything, Offaly football needs a boost at the moment. Since there is so much crossover between the senior and U21 panels, a win of any type at this grade would be hugely welcome and could be just the boost that the team needs in advance of the third round of the Allianz Football League and a crucial trip to Sligo. Since that fixture is now almost certain to be a relegation four pointer, any good news in advance of that tie would be welcome, regardless of the source.