IF we were to blank out what happened in the recent National League and instead took our cue from last year’s championship in trying to get a handle on the most likely scenario at O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Saturday evening, the inescapable conclusion would be that Offaly are doomed and Galway are heading for a landslide victory.
In mid-June last year, Galway walloped Offaly in Portlaoise despite failing to score a goal. They had 17 points (0-33 to 1-11) to spare at the finish and things got no better for the Faithful County when they also fell heavily to Waterford (1-35 to 0-14) in the qualifiers as then manager Kevin Ryan’s sweeper system got cut to shreds.
The scale of those beatings obviously tormented the local hurling fraternity, but outside the county’s borders they came as no great surprise. For years Offaly hurling has been in serious decline, with their teams also woefully uncompetitive at minor and U21 level. And heading into 2018, the outlook remained grim.
Yet, not much more than four months later, it’s fairly obvious Offaly are turning a corner. They hit the ground running in the league with a thundering win over Dublin at Croke Park and though they fell heavily to Limerick subsequently and lost to Galway by 11 points at Pearse Stadium, you still got a sense that they were finally moving in the right direction.
Morale would have been lifted further when they gave Kilkenny a big fright in the league quarter-final at O’Connor Park in March, only losing by two points (0-24 to 1-9) and displaying no signs of the soft centre which tended to afflict them when falling behind. They battled to the end against opponents who have been systematically taken them apart for years.
Full preview in this week’s Connacht Tribune