Galway manager Henry Shefflin and Offaly boss Michael Fennelly pictured during their playing days with Kilkenny. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE.

Offaly to feature at King Henry’s first outing

It’ll be a strange afternoon for Michael Fennelly and the Offaly hurlers tomorrow (Sunday), as they will be part of the biggest story of the day in GAA terms, while completely incidental to proceedings at the same time.

Duggan Park in Ballinasloe will play host to Henry Shefflin’s first game in charge of the Galway senior hurlers, and Offaly’s presence on the day will be seen as relevant only in the sense that there will be a Ballyhale Shamrocks man in the away dugout as well.

In one sense, this is not a bad place for Offaly to be in the lead up to this game. Much like the county footballers, this Walsh Cup is about acclimatizing to life in elite company once again, and while Galway had a very poor championship summer in 2021, this is still the same team that beat Limerick in last year’s Allianz Hurling League. Galway are also the side many would consider to be the only one with both the hurling and the physicality to test the Treaty men this summer.

There will be a considerable measure of transition to Galway’s approach to this game, with their St Thomas contingent absent and a new-look forward unit about to be formed in the absence of Joe Canning.

There is incredible depth in Galway club hurling, so any players that are even given a chance to feature on Sunday, regardless of their lack of profile, will be serious operators. Expect somewhere between 40 and 50 hurlers from the county to play in the upcoming Fitzgibbon Cup, as hordes of All-Ireland minor winners from the county populate colleges all across Ireland.

As Offaly prepare for this challenge, the manner in which St Rynagh’s came within moments of knocking over Ballyhale needs to be harnessed.

A long time away from the top table can create an impression that hurling in the leading counties has become almost untouchable for counties like Offaly, and this sense is doubled when Offaly aren’t well represented in third level competition, as has been the case for some time now. That’s slowly beginning to change, and a good showing in Ballinasloe would be another step in the right direction.

For those who don’t know the venue, Ballinasloe is not exactly modern in its décor and layout, but the playing field is one of the best you’ll find. Expect some very enjoyable fare if you’re heading along this way, and hopefully a strong Offaly performance that will be a platform for a good spring campaign.

- Kevin Egan