Brief reference, if you don’t mind, to that anonymous column in the Offaly Express that has brought sharp focus to a game which was in danger of passing through without anyone paying it the slightest bit of attention, writes Eoghan Cormican.
Former Offaly hurler Brian Carroll read the column and would have liked if the author’s name had been attached to a piece of writing which made clear that if Offaly don’t get over Westmeath in tomorrow evening’s Leinster quarter-final, then the county should simply give up hurling.
The nub of the piece premises that Offaly operates several levels above their neighbours and therefore, results like last year’s Leinster round-robin fixture which Westmeath won by 2-22 to 1-11 shouldn’t be happening.
Carroll didn’t see that result as a blip or a one-off. He saw it as a strong dose of reality. Like it or not, this is where Offaly hurling is at.
It is eight years since an Offaly team contested a Leinster U21 final, 12 years since an Offaly college reached a Leinster schools decider and you’d have to go right back to 2003 for their last appearance in the provincial minor final.
At senior level, they’ve lost to Laois twice in the last three years – once in the league and once in championship, while Kerry claimed maximum points on their travels to Birr during last year’s league. These are the counties which Offaly now keep company with. And to think otherwise is to bury your head in the sand and dream of Sundays from the revolution years.
“We are a long way away from the glory years of the eighties and nineties,” says Carroll. “We’re not where we want to be."
He added: "Our eyes are wide open going into this game against Westmeath, but I do think we are capable of winning it.”
Carroll was part of the last Offaly senior team to contest the Leinster final, that in 2004 and unsuccessfully so, and remarked when departing the inter-county scene at the beginning of last year that Offaly needed to improve the physical preparation of its development squads. The approach of 'let the ball do the work' was long past its sell-by date.
“I think it is going to take a hell of a lot of work to get Offaly moving in the right direction. The underage development is beginning to move in the right direction, but it is certainly a work in progress. There’s certainly a lot more work to be done. Strength and conditioning, coach education and the standard of coaching, all that needs to improve and continually improve if Offaly are to improve as a hurling county. It is imperative that this happens not just at development squad level, but also at club level."