Pat Flanagan intent on changing fortunes as he gets Offaly into ‘Championship psyche’

Offaly manager Pat Flanagan in Croke Park at the announcement of plans for the county's centre of excellence.

Leinster SFC R1

Offaly v Longford
Sunday: O’Connor Park, Tullamore, 3.30pm
Referee: A Nolan, Wicklow

Seven months have come and gone since Offaly’s footballers were paired with Longford in the preliminary round of the Leinster Championship and, truth be told, Pat Flanagan is still ticked off about it.

A glance at the full draw, one which placed Dublin at a safe distance on the other half of proceedings, would prompt the question as to why.

Flanagan has nothing against Longford — he’s just sick of the sight of them.

And the feelings may be mutual.

“I’m involved with Offaly for 18 months and this is our fifth occasion to meet (Longford), which is a bit disappointing. When the draw came out I just said ‘Holy God’.

“It’s not what we want, and I don’t think any of the Longford boys want it either.

“It would have been nice to get something different, but it is what it is. It is going to be a huge challenge. There have been only a few points between us, apart from the league final when we got a bit of a run on it.”

That league clash was the Division Four decider at Croke Park 13 months ago, when Offaly posted 4-16 on Denis Connerton’s men to win by 13 points.

It didn’t do Flanagan’s men much good weeks later when Longford had three points to spare in a provincial opener.

Still, Offaly needed that league trophy. A glorious past has given way to a grim present and the joy on the faces of those players as they posed happily for pictures at GAA headquarters demonstrated the worth of approaching the tie with such zeal.

Flanagan looks back now and admits their Championship hopes may have taken a hit as a result, but he has been an unapologetic exponent of the virtues of league football and what playing at a higher level in spring can do for a county’s cause.

He was manager of Westmeath when they shot like a rocket from Division Three up to the top tier in just two seasons. And he made no bones about his bid for another back-to-back promotion with his native county this term.

It didn’t work out that way, though the margins were slim.

Offaly, Longford, and Clare all finished on eight points in an exceptionally competitive division, four adrift of Kildare. Clare earned the right to make the next step up the ladder, thanks to superior points difference.

“It was very tough, but the ironic thing about it was we beat Longford and Clare and if it had to go to a head-to-head with Clare, we would have probably got up.

“But they got up on score difference. It showed we are competitive, that we are not out of our depth. In every one of our games we were very competitive. We lost by four points to Kildare and (by five) to Tipperary. They were the biggest losses.

“It’s all about a different psyche for the Championship. We need to get ourselves into a position to win the game and not give it up as we did last year.”

It’s nine years since Offaly had six points to spare against Carlow in Portlaoise.

Nobody could have guessed then — or weeks later, when they ran Dublin to five points in the semi-final — that they would still be awaiting their next victory in the province nine years later. Yet here they are.

Longford, at least, look ripe for the plucking, given the levels of toxicity seeping from the county in recent weeks, as Denis Connerton railed against a proliferation of club fixtures and the debilitating effect they were having on their championship preparations.

Rumours of a managerial resignation even swept through the midlands and, though Connerton suggested they were already turning their attention to the All- Ireland qualifiers, Flanagan knows Longford too well not to prepare as per normal.

“He might be (eyeing the back door), I don’t know what is going on in his mind. If he sends it to me in writing that they are not coming down, then I’ll accept it. Until he does that, we’ll be waiting on a very stiff challenge from Longford.”

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