Two Offaly clubs have yet to complete their football season, but even allowing for the potential for a Croke Park appearance early in the New Year, the evidence has been lodged and we can safely call the 2018 Offaly football club rankings – with very few surprises at the top of the order.
1 – Rhode (no change). They’ll certainly be entitled to look on enviously at St Columba’s of Longford in a Leinster final this weekend and wonder what might have been, and certainly in an Offaly context, there’s no debate about what club remains on top of the pile. Nothing that happened in 2018 would suggest this will change any time soon, even allowing for Jack Cooney’s departure.
2 – Ferbane (no change). Losing the 2016 county final was understandable, and the circumstances surrounding their 2017 defeat to Clara would have given them plenty of fuel over the winter months. Dealing with this year’s defeat to Rhode will be different, as there could be no disputing the gulf between the sides. Much now depends on the attitude of some of their younger footballers, including some of those that played intermediate football this year – if they strive to bridge the gap to Rhode, they’re not without hope. Going through the motions and waiting for Rhode to come back into the pack will be of no use.
3 – Clara (no change). They don’t get many new footballers up through the underage ranks each year, but they are finding good ones. Seamus O’Brien, Aaron Ngo, Luke Dignam – these aren’t just filling jerseys on the senior team, they are going about their business very well. Using some of their veterans as full-forward line targets in 2019, if the new mark rules come into effect, could be interesting. Strip away their first-round game against a clearly disinterested Gracefield side, and they scored four goals in eight championship starts. Address that, and they could go a long way.
4 – Tullamore (up 2). They nearly did that Tullamore thing and beat Rhode in the semi-final, and their win over Ferbane in the group stages was also impressive. They have county players all along the spine of the team and while there will come a time when players like Paul McConway and Shane Dooley will have to be replaced, for now they are still not far off.
5 – Edenderry (down 1). Never really caught fire this year, and twice they had a semi-final slot in their hands (against Ferbane, then against Tullamore) but failed to defend a lead. There’s no shortage of footballing skill in the team, but the jury is out on whether or not they have the physical strength and power they’ll need.
6 – Shamrocks (up 3). Their full story is not yet told, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that they will be well able to hold their own at Senior 'A' level in 2019, regardless of how they go against Twomilehouse. The age profile of the team is good, their scoring power is unquestioned and arguably their biggest challenge could be managing “down time” if they come through the Leinster final tomorrow (Saturday). Balancing the demands of an All-Ireland campaign and the need to be championship ready by the first weekend in April isn’t easy, certainly not in a dual club.
7 – Gracefield (down 1). They did enough. Against Cappincur, and against Durrow, when the need was greatest, they did enough – but there’s no point pretending that they made forward progress this year, and staying out of the relegation play-off final will be a big ask for them in 2018.
8 – Cappincur (down 1). They continue to defy expectations, but it must be galling for the club that the game where they most needed to play well – against Gracefield – turned out to be their worst performance of the season. The ascension of Shamrocks puts a lot of pressure on next year, but if they can get a relatively clean bill of health (admittedly that’s no simple thing) they’ll continue to hold their own at the top level.
9 – Tubber (up 3). Not unlike 2017, they were right in the championship mix all year, and then went down badly in a game where they shipped too many scores too early. They won six championship games this summer, five of them by a goal or less – there can be no doubting their character, but now they need to push on from here, and getting an extra two or three points of improvement won’t be easy.
10 – Ballycumber (up 4). Another yo-yo club, they’ve settled the ship at underage after a few lean years, admittedly as part of either a two-club or a four-club amalgamation, depending on numbers. In what looks like a very even Senior 'B' championship next year they’re in the mix, but there are still a lot of veterans that won’t be easy to replace.
11 – Durrow (down 3). It became apparent very quickly that they were out of their depth in the top flight this year. Losing their games in April wasn’t a crisis, but losing them in the manner they did, in a year when so many players were also chasing a hurling championship, made life very tough – and ultimately meant that Kevin Meehan departed the club as manager midway through the season.
12 – Erin Rovers (up 1). Picked up where they left off in 2017, and they’ll look at a five-point defeat to Shamrocks in the county semi-final and realise that they could yet emulate Cappincur and add Senior 'B' glory to their intermediate title. A lot depends on their talented young forwards, players like Conor Owens, Stephen Buckley, Nathan Poland, Gio Russo and Conor Lynam. As a group, the sky is the limit for them, but going from talented young player to proven senior footballer is a difficult transition.
13 – Bracknagh (down 2). They won the games that they might realistically be expected to win, but they ended the year with comfortably the worst defensive record in the Senior 'B”' championship and need to address that shortcoming in a big way. You can’t win games against good teams conceding 20 points or more in a game, as they did all too often.
14 – Raheen (up 2). Unlike their neighbours, defence was not a problem – but attacking play really was. This has been an ongoing issue for the club for some time now and even though they found one or two clubs that they could beat this year, they’ll do well to stay out of a relegation battle next year.
15 – St Brigid’s (up 3). Depending on how they go in the Leinster junior final and possibly in the early stages of 2019, this ranking could be conservative – but even if they do fall short in Drogheda, they’re entitled to be very happy with their season, bouncing back after relegation last year. That said, failing to deliver in the county final will be a source of frustration, and they can’t afford to spend too long at intermediate level – they’ve a lot of veteran players who won’t be easy to replace still performing key roles.
16 – Walsh Island (down 1). Put in a few big performances when they needed to, and most traditional Offaly supporters will be delighted to see them hold their place in Senior 'B' football. The long term demographics don’t read well for them, however, and no amount of short term fixes can address that.
17 – St Rynagh’s (down 7). Their spectacular fall from grace continues, and it all now hinges on how they respond to this latest setback. Getting back into Senior 'A' football is probably beyond them for the foreseeable future, but if they attack 2019 in the right way, they should be looking at nothing less than a Leinster junior crown. They have too much talent to be down at this level and if they can muddle their way through the summer when the demands on dual players is highest, then they could be ready to hit new heights in late autumn, provided of course that the hurlers don’t match their achievements and earn a shot at Leinster themselves.
18 – Ballycommon (up 4). In the 2019 Intermediate championship, it all hinges on St Rynagh’s. If the Cloghan club get their act together, they should be far too good for all opponents. If they don’t, Ballycommon are arguably as well-placed to take advantage as anyone. This was an excellent first season at this level for the club and given the age profile of so many of their key players, the graph should keep moving in the right direction.
19 – Shannonbridge (down 2). When we consider the standard of some of the footballers in the club, they should be bypassing an intermediate quarter-final, never mind losing in it. They might lack depth but the quality of some of their better players is such that they should be well able to compete at a higher level.
20 – Daingean (up 1). Steady as she goes, and a new impetus is needed from here. It’s all very well for St Vincent’s to win titles, but that success has to feed down into the constituent clubs and it could be argued that Daingean are the one out of four that aren’t making the best use of their raw material.
21 – Clonbullogue (down 2). Did enough in the group stages to suggest that they were going to be right in the mix for championship honours, but then went down badly without ever getting off the ground in their quarter-final clash with Daingean. There’s no doubt that the long-term future for the club is bright – they’re very well represented on some good underage St Broughan’s teams – but they can’t simply keep the pot on the hob for four or five years and hope that the extra ingredients those young players will provide will suddenly make a cordon bleu dish. The push has to keep going in the interim.
22 – Kilcormac-Killoughey (re-entry). Great to see them back in action, and better still to see them make a reasonably honest effort all year long. Nobody believes for a minute that avoiding relegation to junior is the height of their potential, but equally, they’re not going to suddenly make football a huge priority. Still, there are enough young bodies in the parish for them to make an impact, and even some players who could make an impression on county football panels.
23 – Clodiagh Gaels (up 1). If the football side of the club was to stand any chance of gaining parity of esteem in the parish, they needed to get out of the junior ranks and while there was little or nothing between them and Kilclonfert in the decider, they did enough to edge the replay and secure Intermediate football for next year. On the face of it, they’ll find the step up in class difficult to handle, but a lot depends on how much buy in they get from members of the hurling panel.
24 – Kilclonfert (down 1). If ever there was a case for ranking two teams jointly, Kilclonfert and Clodiagh Gaels were almost inseparable this summer. Kilclonfert will look back on only performing for half the game in the drawn county final, or what might have been if they kept 15 men on the field in the replay.
In 2017 their attack was unstoppable, and they added a strong defensive streak this year. They clearly have the ingredients to get out of junior, but they need to take their chances sooner rather than later.
25 – Doon (down 5). There’s no way we can put lipstick on a pig of a year for the club, as they started the year with a draw (to eventual champions Ferbane, of all people) but things then spiralled out of control with a series of heavy defeats. A couple of high profile absentees was a factor, but addressing the decline will be no easy feat.
26 – Clonmore Harps (up 1). A little unlucky to be drawn into a group with the two best teams in the junior championship, particularly with only two knockout slots on offer, but they couldn’t argue that they were competitive against either Clodiagh Gaels or Kilclonfert. As a squad, they probably needed more good games than they got in 2018, walkovers and uncompetitive ties didn’t help their cause.
27 – Birr (down 2). The heady days of competing for intermediate titles are long gone, though if we strip away their disastrous championship opener against Rhode in April, they actually put in some decent performances this summer. Conceding a walkover against Edenderry was disappointing, but as always, if they get themselves together, they’ll be a threat to anyone at junior level, and possibly even further up the food chain.
28 – Ballyfore (down 2). Struggled to compete at Junior 'A' level this year but cannot afford to go back down to the depths of Junior 'B' if there is to be any future for the club. No doubt their championship win over Edenderry will have felt like it make a lot of the rest of the summer worthwhile, however!
29 – Kinnitty (re-entry). Good to see them back, as there are a few very capable footballers in the club. Keeping things ticking over at Junior 'B' is ideal, at least until the day that there is a solid group of players that consider themselves footballers first and foremost.
And even if that never happens, it’s still admirable that they have this no-pressure outlet for a group of players that could easily get drawn into another hurling relegation battle next summer. Could easily pick up a few refugees from Drumcullen, who failed to field this year and presumably might choose not to enter in 2019.