NATURALLY enough, Joe Dooley was disappointed after yesterday’s defeat to Kilkenny.
The Offaly boss didn’t hide from the harsh facts. His side had been totally outclassed, and their bright beginning made that even harder for him to take.
“For the first 35 minutes we hurled very well, it was inspiring stuff, but it’s hard to keep Kilkenny down for 70 minutes. They’re a great hurling team, and when they got the goal that put them five or six points up, and we were struggling.
“We needed that goal, not Kilkenny. But in the first half I thought we did well, particularly our backline and midfield. Our forwards were struggling to hold the ball, but the Kilkenny backs were very strong.”
Conceding easy frees didn’t help, but Dooley acknowledged that his side were always struggling to keep up that early intensity.
“Yeah, we gave away six frees in the first half, which is too many against Kilkenny, and some of them were kind of soft frees, they were technical rather than for severe fouls. But that’s the way it goes. You can’t afford to do that against Kilkenny.
“Taking them on takes an unbelievable effort. You need huge talent and fitness and strength, our lads gave it everything we asked of them, and I’m proud of them anyway. They played brilliant stuff in the first half, but to keep that up for 70 minutes against a team like Kilkenny takes some effort. There’s not many teams out there who’ll be able to do that.”
An observation which led to the obvious question: does Dooley see any team around being able to do that?
“The difficulty for Kilkenny is that, with respect to Dublin and Wexford, they’ll probably get out of Leinster and the All-Ireland final is three months away. Tipperary are coming, Galway will be fresh . . . it’ll be hard for them to keep that up, All-Irelands aren’t easily won, but Kilkenny know that.
“They’re going to be turned over some day, so you have to keep working at it. It’s hard to know where to go after today for us, but it’s doable. They’re going to run out of steam at some stage, but at the moment they’re very strong.
“They throw the ball around, they can score left or right, they have an awesome forward line . . . and Henry Shefflin isn’t at full fitness.”
Shefflin and co are somebody else’s problem from now on — Dublin or Wexford will face them next — but Offaly have their own route ahead. The manager was frank when asked to compare this year’s side with the 1998 vintage, when Dooley and Offaly last won an All-Ireland.
“Deep down we knew we were going to be in the qualifiers, so we’ll go back to the drawing board and try to gear up for those,” said Dooley.
“We’re probably a long way off it (an All-Ireland title). In 1998 we had a very strong team, now it’s a question of filling the positions one by one and building up a strong team. That’s what we’ll be doing over the next couple of years but we’re a good bit off it, to be honest.
“Kilkenny are physically very strong, and we have 22 or 23 guys under 22 on the panel. So we have to keep them at it; if we get critical and they walk away we have no chance. We have to be positive.”
Positive and faithful. What other choices are there?
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