Mike McNamara: Offaly must keep faith in Brian Whelahan

He spent the 1990s plotting against Brian Whelahan and the early 2000s conspiring alongside him, all of which has convinced Mike McNamara that the Birr man will turn things around in Offaly.

Mike McNamara: Offaly must keep faith in Brian Whelahan

Time is of the essence, however, and Team of the Millennium member Whelahan appears to be on shaky ground right now.

Offaly play Clare tomorrow — two teams that Mike Mac has managed — and should Clare win, as many expect, then Whelahan could very well be shown the exit door.

His two seasons in charge have coincided with Offaly relinquishing both their Division 1B status in the Allianz League and their place in the Leinster championship proper.

And they are only facing the Banner County in the back door series because of a first championship defeat to Laois in 43 years.

It doesn’t make for impressive reading though McNamara has a strong sense of the character of Whelahan and has argued stoutly that Offaly must stick by him regardless of tomorrow’s result.

“The Whelahan name is engrained in Offaly hurling, if they give him time he’ll turn the tables around, that’s the type of man he is,” said McNamara. “He’s an infectious individual and he’s passionate about Offaly. If he gets time he’ll turn it around.

“Yes, there has maybe been some dark days but he’ll come out of it stronger with Offaly if given the support. They have to give him that support because there’s only one Brian Whelahan up there in Offaly, nobody loves Offaly hurling more than that man does.”

McNamara surely cursed Whelahan the player back in the 1990s, particularly in ‘98 when Offaly — with the aid of referee Jimmy Cooney’s errant timekeeping — knocked Clare out of the championship and ended their bid for three All-Irelands in four seasons.

But just five years later, they were comrades in Offaly as McNamara took over as manager, spending two years in charge.

Offaly contested their last Leinster final in McNamara’s final season, 2004, and the Scariff publican suggested that their four-point loss that day to Wexford owed much to Whelahan’s early exit with a hamstring injury.

“Had he not been injured in that Leinster final, Offaly probably would have broken that hoodoo of not winning one since the 1990s. He was suffering from a hamstring injury and he had to go off, I do believe that was the difference that day and Offaly have slipped down the ladder since that really.”

McNamara believes his native Clare will prevail tomorrow in Ennis. He doesn’t place much stock in home advantage and the atmosphere likely to be generated by a double header of championship games involving Clare.

But he does believe that the Laois loss has left Offaly in a difficult place approaching a make-or-break tie with the 2013 All-Ireland winners.

“You couldn’t but say that Clare are favourites after the Laois game. Offaly have slipped slightly off the pedestal for whatever reason. They came to life just before the senior success in the 1990s with some superb minor and U-21 teams.

“They haven’t been performing in those grades for the last while at all. We had the nucleus of a reasonable team when I was there but the numbers playing hurling in the county were always small generally, there’s a small enough population and add in that half the county leans towards football.”

McNamara believes that, on paper, Clare are capable of reviving their season through the qualifiers and launching another Championship assault.

“I would expect Clare to be able to stand with the top three or four teams that are there,” he said.

“After the first round of Championship matches that we’ve seen, it appears Tipp, Kilkenny and Galway have moved ahead. The jury is still out on Waterford but they could join that crew. They have to perform in a Munster final though.”

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