High time Offaly were back in Croker, says McManus

CIARAN McMANUS believes Sunday’s defeat of Louth will offer Offaly the perfect launching pad to seek revenge on neighbours Laois when the sides meet in Croke Park on May 29.

The old midland rivals last met two years ago when Laois rescued a draw in Portlaoise after Kevin Fitzpatrick clearly illegally threw the ball to Mick Lawlor who shot past Padraic Kelly into the Offaly net.

Laois made good their escape in the replay, finishing three-point winners before going on to become Leinster champions the following month, while Offaly's campaign petered out in the qualifiers.

Yet Offaly's win over an enfeebled Louth side was laboured to say the least. On an admittedly blustery day, Kevin Kilmurray's side hit 18 wides with almost 10 more efforts on goal either falling short or ending up nearer the corner flag but still in play.

"That's not a worry in the slightest," countered McManus. "All that mattered for us today was to win in the first round of the championship, which we hadn't done for a few years.

"Psychologically, that will be a big boost for us and now it's set up for a rematch against Laois because we felt we left something behind us in Portlaoise a few years ago. There was a big question mark over their late goal that gave them a draw that day and we want to set the record straight."

As for their attacking failings, McManus again pointed to the fact that the 1997 Leinster champions hadn't won a game in the province since 2002. Encouragingly, he suggested, they did manage to realign their sights to greater effect as the game went on.

"We showed a lot of nerves, I thought, because we looked like a team that hadn't won a match in the championship proper in three or four years. In the first 15 to 20 minutes we had tonnes and tonnes of possession but lads were just doing the wrong thing with the ball time and time again. Instead of slipping it to the man in space for an easy score, they were all trying to go for it and get a lead up. Once we started to run the ball then and be a bit more sensible with it we got the goal and that made things a lot easier. From then on, I won't say we were comfortable, but we had a good margin between us.

"We were very worried about Louth. I know Val Andrews very well from my time playing Sigerson and I don't care what games he plays with the press, he's going to have his lads in good shape and well organised. For the first 20 minutes they stuck to a good game plan and that really frustrated us. Even the crowd were getting frustrated."

It's a sign of how low Offaly feel their stock has slipped in recent years that their delight at beating as poor a side as Louth is totally genuine. Incredibly, for one of Leinster's bigger guns it's four years since they graced the Croke Park pitch for a championship game and the return to Jones' Road is perhaps a sign that fortunes are finally beginning to turn.

"We've lost the first round by a point or after a replay the last few years all hard luck stories goals in the last minute or whatever. We're sick and tired of that at this stage. It's time to do something about that.

"We'll try and set the record straight this time and at least we've given ourselves the opportunity to do that. It's important for us to be back playing championship in Croke Park too. It's what the fans want and it's where we want to be."

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