Former Offaly star Johnny Dooley has described their Division 1B relegation play-off with Carlow on Sunday as one of the most important games “in the history of Offaly hurling”.
Defeat will mean not just relegation but missing out on the new Division 1 format next season and would represent a double whammy for Offaly, after they dropped from the Liam MacCarthy Cup last year.
Offaly took Carlow for four goals in beating them in Netwatch Cullen Park five days ago but Dooley dismisses the significance of that result.
“It’s been a very poor league and that was the first sign of light at the end of the tunnel last weekend and up to then confidence was fairly brittle but I’m not sure how much that’s going to mean this weekend.
“Our lads got goals then that they possibly won’t get again. It must be difficult for the players and the manager with all the negativity. It’s one of the biggest games in the history of Offaly hurling.
“Keeping that top 12 status is vital and it’s important for Carlow too but Offaly know how much this means given what has happened.”
Dooley is referring to Offaly’s relegation to the Joe McDonagh Cup and that they have been replaced by Carlow adds an element to Sunday’s affair in Tullamore.
However, he considers the upcoming clash to have more repercussions than the Faithful County finishing bottom of last year’s Leinster SHC and being demoted in the Championship.
I think it’s nearly worse because it would be putting down to the next group outside the top 12 and having to travel all over the country next year to places we’ve never been before. To be ranked 13 or whatever and outside that core group of hurling counties would be another major blow.
Dooley stressed: “A win would mean everything. They could take a break before the McDonagh Cup with a level of satisfaction and they could go into the summer with a pep in their step.
“If ever there was a game we must win this is it. I hope to God they do it for all the Offaly people but it’s going to be a tall order. Carlow have had a better league campaign and were a lot more competitive against the stronger teams. I can’t comprehend how you could get these (Offaly) players to regroup for the Joe McDonagh Cup were they to lose.”
After beating Dublin in Division 1B last year and giving Kilkenny plenty to consider in their Division 1 quarter-final, Offaly’s chart has spiralled downward.
Three-time All-Star Dooley knows manager Kevin Martin has had plenty to put up with since.
“There was a spate of injuries and a few guys who didn’t commit. The squad is a lot weaker this year and that was evident from the very first game against Waterford. They have got stronger as the league has progressed but there seems to be too many guys injured all the time and I don’t think that stacks up. So many players seem to be unavailable at the same time.”