Interim Offaly manager Joachim Kelly met with the county’s embattled hurlers for the first time yesterday evening.
Kelly, who was appointed interim manager following the county board’s decision to dispense with Kevin Martin on Monday, oversaw his first training session yesterday evening, 11 days out from Offaly’s crunch Joe McDonagh Cup fixture at home to Antrim.
The new manager’s backroom team was also unveiled yesterday evening, with former Offaly hurlers Paddy Kirwan, Ger Oakley, and Brian Carroll brought in as selectors. Kirwan won an All-Ireland medal alongside Kelly in 1981, while Oakley was part of the extended Offaly panel in 1998, the last occasion the Faithful County toasted Liam MacCarthy success.
Oakley captained the county in the late noughties and was succeeded in the role by fellow incoming selector Brian Carroll, the latter having retired from the inter-county scene at the beginning of 2016. Martin Bennett has taken up the position of trainer.
Offaly have endured a torrid start to their Joe McDonagh campaign, coming off second best in both of their opening games, including last weekend’s 13-point thumping at the hands of Westmeath.
The two defeats have the county bottom of the Joe McDonagh Cup table, but the Irish Examiner has learned that it was not these two results alone which compelled the board to move on Kevin Martin, rather an 18-month spell which has seen the county record just three wins from 18 competitive outings.
The county was relegated from Division 1B this spring after throwing away an 11-point interval lead to 14-man Carlow. Offaly last won a championship fixture in May of 2017.
Waterford native Kevin Ryan, who preceded Kevin Martin as Offaly hurling manager, holding the role for the 2017 season, believes the county’s fortunes will remain in freefall until there is acceptance within Offaly of its low-standing on the hurling ladder.
“I would hate to see Offaly slide any further. I would love to see them pull things together and come back. The first step in this process is to realise where they are at and to stop blaming managers or different individual players or boards because they do put a lot into it,” said Ryan.
The former Offaly manager said the simple truth is that the county doesn’t have the necessary pool of talent at present to be competitive at the top grade. Expectations must be lowered, even if 13-point beatings to Westmeath remain unacceptable.
“A lot of people look for different people to blame, they look to blame boards, managers, everything. I think it is just natural fact that Offaly doesn’t have the pool of players they would have had in one or two cycles in previous decades. Results were probably similarly poor before they won their first All-Ireland.
“It is starting to hit home in Offaly that they are now at the level of Laois, Westmeath, and Antrim. I honestly believe that until, as a county, they accept where they are at, they won’t move forward.
"If they accept where they are at, readjust, cut their cloth accordingly, and look at what a team in that position would do to get back, rather than all the time expecting these results to happen, they can make progress. The support is pathetic there.”
Offaly will need to take at least three points from their remaining Joe McDonagh Cup games against Antrim and Kerry to stave off relegation to hurling’s third-tier Christy Ring Cup.
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Anthony Daly, Ger Cunningham and TJ Ryan review the weekend's hurling.