OFFALY footballers and hurlers have received early season reality checks as they have both made early exits from the O'Byrne and Walsh Cups.
With both managers, John Maughan and Kevin Martin in experimental mode, it was no surprise at all that Offaly didn't make the knockout stages of Leinster's early season warm up competitions but it leaves both with a lot of work to do ahead of the National Football and Hurling League openers.
Both suffered defeats in Carlow last weekend in their final group game and it gives them a few weeks to fine tune their preparations for the big league openers.
The hurlers were beaten 2-18 to 0-18 in a free scoring encounter on Sunday. Level at half time, 0-11 to 1-08, the decisive score was a Carlow goal from Marty Kavanagh straight after the resumption and the home side always looked like winning from here on.
It meant that Offaly finished bottom of the group after suffering earlier defeats at the hands of Dublin and Laois. As expected Dublin topped the group and they play Galway in the semi-final next weekend while Wexford and Kilkenny clash in the other one – Galway, Kilkenny and Wexford received byes into the semi-finals with Dublin, Carlow, Laois and Offaly playing off in a group for the fourth place.
In the O'Byrne Cup, Offaly footballers finished bottom of group 1 after picking up just one point from their three games, a draw with Westmeath, who snatched a semi-final place with an unexpected win over Kildare last Sunday.
Offaly gave a fairly decent performance in their 3-12 to 2-14 defeat by Carlow on Sunday with a punched goal from Conor Carroll levelling it up just on the stroke of the 70 minutes before home sub, Darren Lunney got the winning point in injury time.
The game was notable for a debut by a Dubliner, Shane Horan, who has declared for Offaly under the parentage rule. The son of a Ballycumber father, Aidan and Rath mother, Helen Gath, the Kilmacud Crokes player came on at half time and showed some very promising moments - though it will take more games to fully assess him, he looks like he will be an addition to Offaly.
After a bad opening defeat by Kildare and a draw with Westmeath, the Carlow game was Offaly's best performance of the O'Byrne Cup, despite the loss but they head into the league with a lot of work to do.
Both sides are facing into testing league campaigns. The hurlers are in Division 1B and travel to Waterford on Sunday, January 27 for their opener. They also face Dublin, Carlow, Galway and Laois in this division and the games against Carlow and Laois will be particularly big ones as they bid to avoid the relegation play off – that will be contested between the bottom two teams with the loser going back to division 2A. The top four qualify for the Division 1 quarter-finals, with the top team promoted to Division 1A and Kevin Martin will be setting his sights on a quarter-final berth, even if the odds look to be stacked against them.
Survival also looks to be the name of the game for the footballers who are in division 3. In the ideal world, they would be setting promotion as their target but it is an uncertain period for John Maughan's side as players such as Sean Pender, Conor McNamee, Michael Brazil and Sean Doyle have opted out and they bid to blood new players.
They have a huge opener at home to Westmeath on January 27 and this is a very important game for them. There are a lot of games in this division that Offaly can win but they are also ones they can lose and it is very difficult to make any predictions about their fate at the moment. Down, Longford, Louth, Carlow, Laois and Sligo are also in this division and at the moment, staying up seems to be a more realistic target for Offaly than one of the two promotion spots, though you never know.