New Offaly hurling manager Kevin Martin has admitted that the 2018 Championship will be particularly punishing on players.
Two-time All-Ireland winner Martin was confirmed as Offaly’s new boss on Tuesday night and will preside over huge games in 2018.
Their Allianz league Division 1B campaign begins in January with a high-profile trip to Croke Park to face Dublin, before ties against Limerick and Galway. They will also meet All-Ireland holders Galway in the first of four games in as many weeks next summer when the championship’s new round-robin provincial format kicks in.
Offaly are in the same situation as Waterford, with four games over four weekends, an intense run that Déise boss Derek McGrath described as “absolutely harrowing”.
Martin said the reality is that neither county will begin and end the four-game series with the same team.
“It’s going to take a serious toll on our panel of players and on panels across the country,” said Martin. “You can be sure that whatever team starts Round 1 isn’t going to be the same team that starts Round 3. There are going to be knocks and bangs, that’s just inevitable, and you will need a decent panel to cover you.
“I think Tipperary have announced a panel of 40, which didn’t surprise me, because you’ll have your run-of-the-mill injuries in a season, but you can be sure you’ll pick up a few more on top of that now.”
Offaly’s cause has been helped by the return of a series of players to their ranks after various spells away from the inter-county game.
Former captain Daniel Currams and Conor Mahon — both currently on AIB Leinster club duty with Kilcormac-Killoughey — Colin Egan and Derek Molloy are on board for 2018.
Forward Shane Dooley will be back for a 12th consecutive season, while Martin is in talks with a member of the football panel about committing to a dual role, believed to be Nigel Dunne.
The only downside is the departure of goalkeeper James Dempsey, who played for Leinster in last year’s Inter-provincial series and is viewed as one of the best netminders in the game.
“James is not committing, which is a real kick in the teeth,” said former Westmeath boss Martin. “We have a number of reliable keepers in there, so we’ll just have to move on. James has been an unreal servant for Offaly over several years. I don’t know the guy that well, on a personal level, but I believe he’s a model professional, so, obviously the door is always open to him if he chooses to come back.”
Former Offaly bosses Kevin Ryan and Eamonn Kelly spent just one season in the role, while All-Ireland-winning colleagues Joe Dooley and Brian Whelahan failed to reignite the glory days while in charge.
Offaly have been struggling for years, in truth, with just one Leinster final appearance since 2000, when they last contested an All-Ireland final.
“Offaly has slipped back over the years, absolutely, there is no point in saying anything else or trying to cover it up,” said Tullamore man Martin. “That’s why I’m going in, because I feel I can make a difference. What will that difference be? For me, it’s that we’ll go out and try to win every game and see where that takes us. It’s all fine me saying in November that we’re going to make a push for the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Everyone wants that, but it’s more about getting these lads confident and competing; a confident team will take you places. So I’d say I’m optimistic and realistic at the same time.”
Martin is hopeful that the number of high-quality games that Offaly will contest, in both the league and championship, will inspire his players.
“We have Dublin in our first game of the league at Croke Park, the Coliseum,” he said. “Then, we have the All-Ireland champions [Galway] first up in the opening round of the championship. Those are the games that every hurler wants to be involved in. It’s a huge incentive to look forward with a bit of optimism.
“We’ll have four games in four weeks in the championship against top-class opposition, so that’s something really exciting for us.”
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