ALL-IRELAND SHC ROUND 1:
Tipperary v Offaly
Offaly hurlers travel to Portlaoise tonight, and few expect anything other than a one-sided victory for Tipperary.
Meanwhile, the footballers have long since departed, courtesy of Longford and Wicklow.
It is distantly removed from the halcyon days of the early ’80s and late ’90s, when the county was contending in both codes, picking up All-Ireland, Leinster and League titles along the way.
Daithí Regan is a vociferous critic of the structures within Offaly, and while he sees the reluctance of too many players not to go the extra mile, he maintains that some context is required when discussing the fall from grace.
The players will, he insists, rail against the criticism, but lack the honesty to look at themselves.
That is a symptom though, rather than a root cause. What is really needed is a co-ordinated plan involving schools, clubs and underage development squads that will eventually start sowing the seeds of improved fortunes at senior level in the long term.
For too long, convenient excuses are grasped with the desperation of a drowning man. Wallowing in Division 2 is the handiest excuse but Offaly need to help themselves, just as Clare, Laois and Wexford have done.
“They’re telling us there’s a structure but there’s not a structure” Regan argues. “They’re still talking about it. I’m not going to take a cheap shot at the county board but if you’re being analytical about it, they have to hold their hands up.
“Unless it is addressed, we’re heading for the Christy Ring. Last Friday night we got beaten by Galway intermediates in a challenge game. And we’re going to play Tipp at the weekend.
“Some players will come out and see ‘we’re sick and tired of the knocking, we know we have the players’. It’s good sound bite but look at the results. We’re a million miles away. You have skill but if you have weak players, they’re weak off the pitch and they won’t confront the truth.”
On the football side, Vinny Claffey believes the players are in the county but lack belief. He concurs with Regan on the absence of a strategic plan, pointing to what Westmeath, Laois, Kildare and Tipperary have done.
“The county board apparently have a plan in place but it’s hard to know what the plan is,” says Claffey. “You’d think the county board would look at counties that have done well and see what they’ve done right and even try to do it better but that doesn’t seem to be happening.
“It’s no good having one manager doing things right. You’d hope the county board would try to implement an overall five-year plan to try to improve things.”
Regan reckons the priority at executive level is getting the balance sheet right, while others in Offaly have bemoaned the investment in the wonderful O’Connor Park to the detriment of the games. Claffey, like Regan, has been a county selector and reveals there was constant wrangling over what the teams could and couldn’t have.
With gradual regression, Offaly are miles off the top teams in terms of preparation, because the culture isn’t in place. The absence of a plan is evident in the managerial merry-go-round.
“Counties that have done well and are doing well at the moment underage, they’re putting in a manager at maybe U14 and U15 level and leaving them there to progress to minor and U21 ranks,” said Claffey
“It’s a huge help. If a manager comes in with a style of football, he’s gone one year and another comes in, that doesn’t help. It brings you right up to senior ranks where we’ve gone through a huge amount of managers.”
For both men, it comes back to the foundation. A plan, implemented properly. Underage success in four or five years’ time and the obvious knock-on effects from that winning culture at the highest level. Nobody, says Claffey, is expecting a Leinster title next year. But they want to see some semblance of a strategy.
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