Jubilant Offaly retain Division 3 status as Wallace hits out at "negativity" comments

Thursday, 29 March 2018

OFFALY came back from the brink of disaster when they retained their status in Division 3 of the National Football League in a drama filled closing round on Sunday last.
With the relegation guns placed firmly at their temples, Offaly produced their best performance of the campaign on an afternoon of almost unbearable tension in Mullingar.
Needing to win, Offaly did the business with an exceptionally hard working performance, mixed in with some great individual displays, to win by 1-20 to 1-14. Sligo's win over Derry saw the northerners join Wexford in Division 4 next year and it was a great escape for Offaly, who had looked doomed for the drop after losing their opening four games but pulled it out of the fire in their closing three - beating Wexford, having a disappointing draw with Sligo and then recording their first league or championship win over Westmeath since 2006.
A win over Westmeath may not have been enough had Derry and Sligo drawn - scoring difference would have came into play then, leaving Offaly needing to win by more than five points to survive and put Sligo down. As things worked out, two injury time points from Conor Carroll and Niall Darby gave Offaly that six point margin and it didn't matter what happened in Markievicz Park.
Regular updates from both Sligo, and Longford, where they were playing Fermanagh in a winners take all promotion showdown (Fermanagh won by one point) were provided over the Cusack Park PA system, though Offaly manager, Stephen Wallace complained afterwards that this was a bit unfair on them.
"it was a funny one coming down the stretch. We were four or five up and you were getting information from the stands that you don't want when you are concentrating on winning the game. At one stage, it was a draw in Markievicz Park but we knew if we won by six, it didn't matter. The biggest cheer of the day was the point Niall Darby got that put us six ahead. Everyone knew then it didn't matter what happened in Sligo," he said.
Wallace also took the opportunity to hit out at comments made by local media, including this paper, after the draw with Sligo, that Offaly had played negatively in the second half.
"I am delighted for them. They were backed into a corner but they play good football. They scored 1-20 today and 1-14 was from play. They are good footballers and a lot of negative stuff went on last week. Young fellows don't need to read that in papers or hear it on the radio. These guys don't play negative football, they play good football, they play productive football.
"Structured football. We are not going to go out and play stupid football up and down the field. We go out and play with a structure. At times, we are going to come up against teams who will break that down but I don't want to hear any more about those young lads playing negative football. That is not what we are coaching and they are too good to play negative football."
"Some people were saying we had men behind the ball. I don't know what game they were watching, we most certainly did not have men behind the ball. We did not have men behind the ball today. When they went down numbers and we needed to score, we kept pushing men forward. Nor did we do it last week. We play football in the way it is supposed to be played but in a structured coached manner. People need to give these guys time. It is a new team, it is a newly assembled squad. We are still in Division 3. They were in the same place last year after three years under Pat (Flanagan). This is nothing to do with Pat, he had three years with them and they stayed up on the last day of the year. These lads are together five months and they stayed up on the last day. Give these guys a break, that is all I am asking."
He spoke about the importance of staying in Division 3. "Derry were Division 1 three years ago, now they are Division 4. That is the standard. Armagh were in the All-Ireland quarter-final last year, Fermanagh were there two years ago. There are good teams in Division 3. People have to be patient, Offaly have no God given right to beat Sligo. Every three or four years, they are in a Connacht final. A bit of realism has to come into it but we will play better football in Division 3 than Division 4. You are playing better teams and it is a better way for these lads to learn their trade. They are playing lads at a higher level. Division 3 is no soft touch, they learn the hard way there but they learn the right way."
It was a strange game with Westmeath not starting three of their best footballers, John Heslin, Kieran Martin and Ger Egan, though Martin and Egan came on during the second half while they also had three players sent off in the second half - Killian Daly for a straight red early on and then Boidu Sayeh and John Connellan for two yellows late on.
It all meant that referee Jerome Henry was a central figure and Offaly felt they were on the receiving end of some harsh frees against them in the first half, including one that a goal from Luke Loughlin was scored from just before the interval. Wallace could be seen talking to the Mayo official as the teams went to the dressing rooms at half time and he remarked:
"At the end of the day, they are playing with a poorly defined tackle and a lot of it is interpretation on any given Sunday. All I did was I asked him what my guys were doing wrong in the tackle so that we could correct it. In fairness, he was a gentleman, he told me exactly what the problem was. We addressed it and I don't think we gave away two or three frees in the second half. That is a good referee, who is willing to engage with a manager. It is a tough gig."
Now Offaly enter the count down to the May 13 championship date against Wicklow in Portlaoise and for the month of April, they will enter uncharted waters as Wallace's access to players is restricted because of new club championship rules.
The Kerry man revealed that they will be training as normal this week and the players then return to clubs for a week before the start of the Offaly Football Championships. The second round is on April 18/19, removing them from Offaly in the build up to that but Wallace will be talking to clubs in a bid to reach an amicable agreement.
"I think we have a plan that is reasonable and that the players and clubs will be happy with it. We have Leinster championship and it is a horrible scenario for us to be in. Likewise club managers who have a championship to prepare for. I think with consultation and dialogue, we can sort it out."
He also stressed that the panel is still open and that players who show up well in the club championship will be considered. Eoin Carroll has got a knee operation that was a success and may be available for the Wicklow game while Joe O'Connor and Gerry Spollen are also on the way back from injury. "Please God the young footballers of Offaly will put their hands up and I will be looking for their phone numbers," he concluded.


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