Offaly’s Jack Clancy emerges with the sliother under pressure from Laois’s Aidan Corby and Jack Kelly during the side’s Walsh Cup clash in O’Connor Park, Tullamore last year. Ger Rogers Photo.

Laois will be eager to bring Offaly hurling right back down to earth


It’s not difficult to imagine the message that will be drummed home at every Laois training session this week, or what will be said in Croke Park before the O’Moore County take to the field tomorrow afternoon. Last weekend’s U20 victory has led to plenty of media commentary about how Offaly’s young players will fare in the Leinster championship, and how Offaly hurling is on the rise. It won’t be said by anyone in or around Johnny Kelly’s panel, but it’ll still be presented as fact within the Laois dressing room that Offaly are thinking about championship Sundays against Galway and Kilkenny, and that they’re looking past Laois.

After all, this is the same Laois management team last year that railed against Offaly’s decision to field a weakened team against Carlow in the final round of McDonagh Cup group games, even though when they were in the same situation against Westmeath last time out, they did exactly the same thing.

Laois will see this game as a glorious chance to bring their neighbours back down to earth, and to remind the country as a whole that while Offaly might be an emerging force, they’ve been much more consistent over the past decade and more.

Add in a few expletives, and you have Willie Maher’s team talk more or less to a tee.

There certainly is more than a kernel of truth in the idea that Offaly can’t get too far ahead of themselves. There might be no brighter teenage prospect in the country than Adam Screeney, but a teenager he is all the same. Regardless of what he might be in 2027 or 2028, in 2024 someone like Stephen Maher is still more likely to have a big influence on a senior game.

Likewise Dan Bourke, who scored a memorable goal last week after driving through at pace and finishing well – how many times have we seen Paddy Purcell do that against senior defences, including a match-winner against Offaly in Portlaoise this year?

Having these young, potential match winners is a huge boost for Johnny Kelly of course, but this game will still be won or lost based on the established, key men on both sides. It’s Brian Duignan who has to match or better the contribution of Maher, Cillian Kiely has to try and dominate his domain to a greater extent than Podge Delaney, Jason Sampson has to be as involved at both ends of the pitch as Aidan Corby, Charlie Mitchell needs to outshoot Tomás Keyes, and so on through the rest of the team.

Screeney, Bourke, Ravenhill etc., if the baton is handed to them for the last leg of the relay and the rest of the team has put them in the good position, then they can be trusted to finish the job. But the winning or losing of this game will be determined by whether or not the more mature Offaly players are able to do most of the heavy lifting in the first hour or so.

The other aspect of the mental battle is that Offaly can still respect the difficult hurdle that they have to clear tomorrow, while at the same time holding a core belief that our ceiling is higher than that of Laois, based in no small part on what was achieved by the U20s. Deep down, the generation of Offaly hurler that’s coming down the pipeline should feel the same as Offaly hurlers in the 1980s and 1990s – not that the county could aspire to recording an occasional upset win, but that there is a realistic ambition to get to a consistent level of competitiveness at the top level.

It's a fine line between Offaly feeling that they are entitled to their place in the 2025 Leinster SHC, and Offaly arriving in Dublin with a steely determination and conviction that they are going to aggressively claim that prize for themselves. If they can walk that line, they will put themselves in a very strong position to reverse the result from Portlaoise and to well and truly put the heartbreak of last year’s defeat to Carlow into the history books.

Ticket price increase raises ire

The news that seated All-Ireland final tickets are to be increased in price from €90 to €100 each this week was greeted with predictable angst and criticism, most of which was well-meant, but misguided.

What was particularly frustrating was that a lot of the discussions hit on a lot of key points, but still came to the wrong conclusion. Issues such as the increased number of games and the more condensed nature of the intercounty season were cited, both of which were fair points – except that they are an argument against so many games, more than an argument to keep All-Ireland final seats at €90 each.

Almost every criticism of the increase cited the example of a family that is now spending much more money attending games because there are more games to attend, and how that expenditure is spread across fewer pay periods than before.

However if this is a concern – and if it isn’t, it absolutely should be – where is the logical place to decrease ticket prices? Could it be for league, provincial and round robin games, where sell-outs are almost unheard of and where the benefits will be felt across every county? Or should it be applied to All-Ireland finals, where the benefits would be shared between the lucky supporters who managed to get tickets, and the day trippers who pick up tickets from their employers or as part of a draw, but who maybe only go to a couple of games all year normally?

€100 for an All-Ireland final, which is a magical event, possibly even a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a lot of supporters, is expensive, but understandable. €30 for a ticket to a Leinster SFC quarter-final is a lot harder to justify, as is €20 a ticket for the National Leagues.

If you were to log on to Ticketmaster yesterday morning (Thursday) with a view to buying juvenile tickets for the Leinster SHC final/Joe McDonagh final double header, the only blocks for sale were in the corner of the Cusack and Davin Stand, right up the back, at €8 each. Simply put, they’re seats that would struggle to sell otherwise. It’s not a prohibitive price, but there’s no reason for the GAA not to offer family tickets where the adults are full price and anything up to six juveniles are free along with them, since that will get more young people into the stadium to try and deepen their love of the games, and to add atmosphere.

And over the course of the year, that family would still be a lot better off, even if All-Ireland final tickets were more expensive.

Better still, how about clean up the championship a bit to reduce the number of dead games. This weekend, Roscommon will play Cavan and Westmeath will play Derry, and for either of Offaly’s neighbours, a draw will send them through to the last 16. Or to put it another way, either of the two could find themselves four games into the championship with a record of one draw and three defeats, and they would still be alive.

It shouldn’t be easier to eliminate Japanese knotweed from your garden than to eliminate an off-form team from the championship. If someone wanted to cut costs for fans, and to increase the value at the same time, a little bit more threat might be the ideal answer.