Offaly football still searching for return to glory days

Offaly football still searching for return to glory days

Offaly’s slide from football superpower to forgotten backwater has happened, for the most part, on the fringes of the wider consciousness but the county’s parlous state has been framed in a sharper focus of late.

Eugene McGee’s passing, allied to Dublin’s drive for five and the web that links them to Seamus Darby and 1982, will add an extra layer of context to the fortunes of a side still sinking under the tide of history and modern neglect.

There are any number of ways and means by which this decline can be measured but among the more obvious is the fact that their current captain, Niall Darby, is seeking what would be just his second Leinster Championship win tomorrow. And Darby has been with the panel since 2008.

It’s a pity his career should be painted that way given he is one of those players who has always answered the call regardless of the revolving doors that whisked one management team in and spat another out. John Maughan is the latest to take a spin in the hot seat.

“You’ve no real consistency,” says Darby ahead of their provincial opener against Meath.

“You’ve no real flow to what a manager might want to implement so every new manager will have their ideas and, generally at this level, it might take a year or two for them to start to bear fruit.

That hasn’t helped because as soon as you might be just getting used to one they’re gone again and it’s hard to go from square one again. John’s come in and he’s been excellent this year and he’s very well got by the players.

Maughan has cast a wide net for help. Mark Fee has been brought in from Dublin as coach, Damien Sheridan from Cavan, too. Gerry O’Malley, a Mayo man exiled in Ferbane, Kevin Guing and Gerry Fleming are others lending a hand and some local nous. Darby is realistic about their ambitions. 

Football at this level is tantamount to a second job, some prefer to travel and others just don’t see the attraction of wintering in Division Three or the prospect of a summer staving off an inevitable qualifier exit. So be it. If ’82 was a high that would never last then the current situation marks a low that Offaly really should have put behind them a long time ago. 

Small county or not, they could do better. And Darby isn’t without hope.

“I’d like to think we’d be able to challenge for Leinsters anyway in the coming years, but the GAA has taken a huge turn in terms of, say, gulfs in Division One and Two in the league even. 

"There’s some very good Division Two teams have gone up and gone straight back down because they couldn’t, not that they couldn’t cut it at that level, but the margins are so fine up there that… even Kildare a couple of years ago, they lost so many games in Division One by a point. They were back down straight away but, in terms of getting back up there, I’d like to think we could.

“I probably won’t be around for any of it but, no, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see Offaly teams competing for Leinsters in the coming years.”

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