Eirgrid Leinster U21 FC final
Dublin v Offaly
It’s difficult not to believe that Offaly’s appearance in this evening’s Leinster U21 FC final is in spite of a lack of board support.
Tonight: O’Moore Park, 7.30pm
Seventeen months ago, the team had a manager only to lose him the day after he was appointed.
Declan Kelly was ratified to take the role without his knowledge and stepped down less than 24 hours later.
Kelly had yet to finalise player availability with senior manager Pat Flanagan and hadn’t signed off on an agreement.
Offaly secretary Tommy Byrne was left in the awkward position of having to send out a letter to clubs that delegates had been given “misleading” information about Kelly’s intentions.
Almost 12 months to the day, Pádraig Farrell, who eventually took the reins on the understanding he would have two seasons in charge, was told he would not be reappointed much to his chagrin – “I am very hurt and disappointed. I have been very shabbily treated. It is not right or fair to treat people this way.”
Clara’s James Stewart, assisted by Declan Farrell, was named as his successor and has since guided the team to their first provincial U21 final since 2007 but there remains rancour in the county about how predecessors like Farrell were treated when he had only a couple of months to prepare the team.
“Yeah, it was as messy as hell,” says Roy Malone, who was on the last Offaly U21 team to claim the Leinster crown in 1995, “but that’s not new to the Offaly County Board.
“The whole Declan Kelly thing was handled terribly. They presumed a lot of things and just put him in place without agreeing to a lot of criteria.
“Pádraig Farrell was promised two years and it was a way of getting him on board at the time because they were desperate.
"None of the county board are coming out with halos because of it but it’s irrelevant now to this group of players. They just want to go out and play football.”
In 2014, several of this group of Offaly footballers were heavily fancied for Leinster minor honours but were annihilated by Dublin in that season’s semi-final.
Many of those from both sides will be in action in Portlaoise this evening. Rhode man Malone feels there are suggestions they have recovered from that mauling.
“With U21s, I find momentum is a huge thing and Dublin have the same as Offaly but this is the Offaly team that was mooted to be so good as minors when Pascal Kelleghan had them three years ago. They were flying in the Leinster league and competing with Kerry.
"They played Dublin and I’ve never seen so much hype and build-up to a minor game – there must have been 4,000 or 5,000 there – and the whole occasion got to them. The mettle they showed to beat Laois was great.
Dublin are outrageous favourites and have a lot of quality footballers but Offaly do too like James Lalor who did well for the seniors against Sligo at the weekend, Jack Walsh, Adam Mahon and Ruairí McNamee from my own club.”
Meanwhile Offaly have named the same team which defeated Laois for tonight’s U21 final against Dublin.
OFFALY ( U21 FC v Dublin):
B Rohan, (Shannonbridge); C Horan, (Clodiagh Gaels), D Dempsey, (Ballycommon), C Doyle, (Clara); A Mahon, (Edenderry), C Stewart, (Clara), PJ Daly, (Cappincur); J Lalor, (Raheen), J Hayes, (Edenderry); C Farrell, (Edenderry), P Dunican, (Shamrocks), J Walsh, (Gracefield); R McEvoy, (Shannonbridge), R McNamee, (Rhode), S Tierney, (Daingean).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved