Offaly’s Padraig Cantwell and Adrian Cleary get in one another’s way as they attempt to keep the sliothar in play, with Carlow’s Jack Kavanagh claiming a lineball during last Saturday’s game. Photo: Ger Rogers.

No dressing it up as Offaly exit McDonagh Cup with a whimper

By Kevin Egan

We could dress it up, but it’s a painfully simple story that needs no decoration.

Thanks to their dramatic win in Tralee, the Offaly hurlers had their fate in their own hands last Saturday in Tullamore when they took on Carlow. Then, whether it was nervousness, pressure, or the abrasive approach that Carlow brought into this game, what played out was undoubtedly Offaly’s worst performance of 2022.

League defeats to Galway and Cork were grim experiences for all Offaly supporters as the performances in those games, admittedly against good opposition, were very underwhelming. Yet the importance of last Saturday puts this defeat on top (or bottom, depending on your perspective) of the pile.

Outside of Tullamore, these were the winning totals in each of the other ten adult hurling championship games played last weekend: 3-30, 3-31, 0-29, 2-28, 5-24, 0-27, 1-22, 2-29, 1-27, 3-27. An average of 33.4 points, or a fraction over 2-27. Offaly scored 0-17, with just four points from play over the course of the 70 plus minutes of action.

It might seem unfair to single out the team’s low scoring rate following the posting of 4-23 the previous week, but it has been an issue throughout the year. A failure to move through the gears against Meath meant that Offaly were miles behind the other contenders when it came to scoring difference, and aside from Eoghan Cahill and, at a push, David Nally, it’s hard to pick out a forward who enjoyed a really positive year in front of the posts.

Neither was it the case that there were players wearing double digit jerseys that compensated for their lack of scoring with strong performances under the puckout, or in general play. That was particularly evident last weekend, where the physical battles were dominated by Carlow, and Offaly really struggled to retain possession in advanced areas of the field.

Realistically, Antrim are probably that bit further ahead at the moment and had Offaly found a way to scrape across the line and into the Joe McDonagh Cup final, it’s unlikely that it, or the subsequent All-Ireland series play-off against Wexford, would have gone their way.

Nonetheless, games like that would have been hugely beneficial to this group in terms of their development, as there’s no sign that the championship will get any easier in 2022 with Laois and a vastly-improved Kildare side coming into the mix.

Tailteann Cup journey continues

When Offaly played Wexford in the Leinster football championship last month, a significant number of injuries and a generally below par performance meant that the home side prevailed by three points. John Maughan’s men may have reversed that result at the weekend, but they were unable to do so in a fashion that would suggest that there is any huge gap in quality between the teams.

Wexford, a middle of the road team in Division Four of this year’s Allianz Football League, kept pace with Offaly most of the way through the contest and probably would have got at least a draw out of it, had Maurice Deegan’s final whistle come just a couple of minutes later.

Of course a win can be transformative in itself, but when contrasted with the comfortable manner in which Wicklow brushed aside the challenge of Waterford – a Wicklow team that should feel a lot better about themselves in general, given their prior win over Laois in the Leinster championship – and it’s hard to feel particularly optimistic about this Sunday’s contest in Tullamore (throw-in 2pm).

There are still injuries, both short and long term, and the late withdrawal of Lee Pearson was another worrying sign, as he is one of only around a half dozen players that can be said to be in really good form at the moment.

The Tailteann Cup as a whole remains a quite winnable competition from Offaly’s perspective. Cavan and Westmeath are in a much better place at the moment form-wise, but if Offaly were to get a little bit of momentum going, they’d rightly feel like either of those teams would represent a tough, 50/50 battle, but nothing more formidable than that.

However getting to that point where there is a little bit of positivity around the place won’t be easy, and a quick look at some of the early betting for this fixture would suggest that Wicklow might be the better value selection this week.