Offaly hurlers have little room for error as footballers lick wounds
Kevin Egan column
A nine-point win over Meath in Tullamore last Saturday might seem like Offaly have got their Joe McDonagh campaign back on track, but the small handful of supporters in attendance last Saturday won’t have been hugely encouraged by what they saw, even if the contest was largely ruined by the approach to refereeing the throw ball applied by the man in black, Michael Kennedy.
Poor shooting, a failure to create goal chances, no obvious sign of exploiting the spare man in the second half and some very meek efforts in the battle to win long Meath puckouts were the lowlights that stood out more than most. A certain element of rehabilitation and recuperation was going to be necessary after the heartbreak of the first round defeat in Belfast, but a single-digit margin of victory is almost certain to prove inadequate if scoring difference becomes a factor in qualifying for the final of this competition.
The probability is that the equation is quite simple – Offaly must beat both Down and Carlow and get at least a draw in Tralee in a fortnight’s time, which on paper, looks like the toughest assignment of the three remaining group fixtures. That might seem counterintuitive, since the logistics of travelling to Ballycran always add an extra layer of difficulty, while Down were good enough to win in Kerry already. Yet on the face of it, Down have overperformed in 2022 and Kerry played to their potential for the first time all year in their win over Carlow last week.
Down have a goalscoring threat, Paul Sheehan will nail his frees, and confidence is flowing through the veins of the group. The Mourne men have won five competitive games in league and championship; 1-19 to 0-18 against Kerry in the Joe McDonagh Cup and four league games, all by two points or less.
They’ve delivered victories in tight finishes time and again, and while Antrim pulled away from them last week, as did Westmeath in the Division 2A final, if this game is close coming down the final straight, Offaly will find it very tough to secure a result and the memory of that fateful Christy Ring Cup semi-final defeat will loom large in the minds of Michael Fennelly’s side. If ever there was a game where hitting the ground running was vitally important, this is it.
Fallout from Wexford defeat
A host of short term injuries, compounded on top of the long term absentees that have been missed all year long, meant it was a depleted Offaly team that travelled to Wexford Park for last Sunday’s Leinster championship first round game.
That injury list has been heavily cited as the key factor in what was a bitterly disappointing defeat for John Maughan’s group, and it’s possible that Wexford will back up their form with another strong performance against Dublin tomorrow evening (Saturday). If they do, that will at least mitigate the pain of last Sunday’s result a little bit.
Realistically, Wexford aren’t going to beat Dublin, just like Offaly were never going to beat them either, and a landslide away win for Dessie Farrell’s side is entirely possible. For all Dublin’s problems at the start of the year, their last three competitive results were wins over Donegal and Tyrone, followed by a last-second defeat to a really good Monaghan team in Clones. Kildare may yet be good enough to break the Metropolitans’ longstanding run of success in Leinster championship football, but if Glenn Ryan’s charges aren’t able to manage it, there’s no-one else in the eastern province who might be able to do so.
Regardless of the likely outcome a home game against the Dubs would have been a great occasion in Tullamore, a huge boost for local businesses, and a good platform from which Offaly could launch a Tailteann Cup campaign. To miss out on all that is a great shame, and even if we allow for all the players that were unavailable, the team that Offaly togged out should have been able to account for a side that won two games in Division Four (Waterford by a point, and London by two).
It’s been a long time since Wexford were competitive at underage level, their confidence was on the floor, and Offaly should have been able to use the wind in the first half to rack up scores and give themselves something to defend.
It's not the first time this year that an Offaly football team has struggled to use the wind – the league game in Clare and the U-20 defeat to Kildare last week certainly spring to mind – and there may be a coaching issue there that needs to be addressed.
However, on the wider point, the collective spirit and resilience that Offaly showed for the majority of the league campaign, was sorely lacking. Restoring that in time for a competition that may or may not be taking seriously by the GAA as a whole won’t be a simple task.
Minor footballers to meet Laois
A 5-16 to 2-7 win over Carlow on Wednesday night has extended the Offaly minor footballers’ season for at least another week, earning the group a home Leinster quarter-final against Laois on next Wednesday night.
This looks like a very decent Laois team, so Offaly are likely to need to improve by a significant percentage to cause their visitors real problems in that tie. Nonetheless, coming into the game on the back of a performance where you control midfield, defend well and each member of your full forward line scores 1-2 from play is a pretty decent platform.
Every game is a huge learning experience at this level, so just reaching a fifth competitive fixture is a worthwhile achievement in itself. Here’s hoping there’s a sixth to come.
Minor hurlers back in action
A recent challenge match defeat to Galway has quelled some of the hype that was building around this year’s minor hurling team, but there remains a sense that if ever Offaly were to pick up a win over one of the three big powers in Leinster at this grade, this is the team that might be capable of doing so.
Before that can be considered, a quarter-final tie against Antrim must first be negotiated. It’s hard to know quite what to expect from this Antrim side tomorrow, as they were clearly incorrectly graded in Tier 3, where they crushed Derry and Down. A comfortable win over Kildare has brought them this far in the competition, so they probably would have been much more at home in Offaly’s Tier 2, as opposed to the Lilywhites, who were well off the pace against both Offaly and Laois.
Confidence might be high, but nothing can be taken for granted at Dowdallshill tomorrow (Saturday). Live to fight another day has to be the motto, and hopefully then the bar can be raised in a semi-final clash against Dublin.