Dark day as successive relegations condemn Offaly to hurling's third tier

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brian.lowry@midlandtribune.ie

Rewind 12 months and defeat to Dublin in Parnell Park meant that Offaly would not be taking part in this year's Leinster championship.

It was met with destain and anger but not surprise. It had been coming a while. The talk was that they would re-group and bounce straight back but defeat to Kerry on Saturday in Tralee proved to be final blow as not only were Offaly not even close to bouncing straight back, but a successive relegation was confirmed as Offaly now head for the Christy Ring cup after passing through the Joe McDonagh cup.

The result in Kerry may have confirmed the relegation but it wasn't the sole cause. The narrow defeats to Laois and Antrim and the thrashing at the hands of Westmeath were of equal significance to the Kerry loss even if people are automatically drawn to the most recent game.

There has been yet more destain and anger in the immediate aftermath.

There have been talk about structures and plans, sitting down and figuring things out and 'getting back to where we belong' but the harsh reality of it all is after failing to win a game in the championship and been relegated in the league earlier this year, Offaly are where they belong at this moment in time – in the third tier of both the league and championship.

People will argue that Offaly are better than they have shown and that may be the case but those type of theories have to be backed up and unfortunately, 2019 wasn't the year.

Speaking after the game on Saturday, Offaly interim manager Joachim Kelly was crestfallen.

He will know himself that selection gambles didn't work out and he will have his regrets but at the end of the day, he was only there for little over three weeks and went in to do his best to address the slide.

"Offaly needs to start again now at the bottom, we are where we are. Maybe we're not good enough and we maybe think we are and we're not but there's always hurling in Offaly,"

"They're not going to fold up now just because of this defeat. Maybe it's the best place to start, the Christy Ring Cup, and get better and better and back up to the Joe McDonagh.

"No one died, the sun will rise again in the morning, and please God Offaly will rise again some time soon."

“I’m an Offaly man and I’m gutted — I’m gutted like the 26 players in there. We came down here to try and get a win and it’s not easy to get a win in a Munster venue, and play a Munster team and against a Munster referee.”

The management and players came in for some criticism on social media in the last week both before and after the game.

There were some selection surprises, players drafted into the panel in the last few weeks with others dropped from the panel.

"There are a**eholes on social media criticising us, they are gobsh**es who know nothing about hurling. Everybody gets it; the management, the county board, the players," he said.

"But if they (social media critics) only knew the work these lads have put in over the last couple of years, they wouldn't be so quick to criticise."

“I came in here for a month and it didn’t work out, just like it didn’t work out for Kevin Martin or Brian Whelahan before. I’m not worried about my reputation, I’m 63 years of age, and I’ve done my bit on and off the pitch.”

As stated above, the Kerry game was just a quarter of the problem. Four losses from four games mean the campaign in general was equally poor.

Consistency was lacking. In terms of team selection, only four players started all four games – Eoghan Cahill, Shane Dooley, Oisin Kelly and Ben Conneely.

The four games saw three different starting centre backs in Pat Camon (two games), Shane Kinsella and Cillian Kiely.

Those facts don't indicate a fully functioning camp and while variables such as injuries and form do have to be taken into account, they are still alarming figures.

Whatever happens going forward, the most important thing that Offaly hurling has going forward is leadership off the field and on the field.

From the County Board's point of view, they have to insure that they put measures in place to arrest the slide. They can't wait until October or November to pick a new manager. That needs to be put to bed in the next four to six weeks and let the prospective management team be in place for the bulk of the remainder of the club championship.

Why can't that be done? Too often in the past, the process has dragged out and no one benefits. Show the players that the only way from here is up and show some leadership.

Whoever that new manager is needs to show leadership also and not mess about. There is talent in the County and if there can be an attractive and positive environment put in front of them, things can change.

Last year saw Offaly minor hurlers get to a Leinster semi final, the u20'S this year have some super talent and it is only three years ago since Offaly took on Dublin in the Leinster U21 hurling final.

It is important not to let any more rot set in, don't bury heads in the sand but instead face up to reality and face this struggle head on and with the chest out.

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