Saturday 3 December 2016

'Apathy reigns as Dubs dominance turns Leinster into a wasteland'

Published 16/05/2016 | 02:30

Offaly manager Pat Flanagan celebrates with his captain Alan Mulhall after the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship match against Longford in O'Connor Park Photo: Piaras O Midheach/Sportsfile
Offaly manager Pat Flanagan celebrates with his captain Alan Mulhall after the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship match against Longford in O'Connor Park Photo: Piaras O Midheach/Sportsfile

It is very seldom when a home team is leading by eight points with a few minutes to play that their fans are in a state of nervous anxiety, but that is the way things were in Tullamore yesterday.

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The reason for the anxiety is easy to explain because Offaly had not got past the first round of the Leinster Championship for the previous eight years, and in Offaly football terms that represents a lifetime.

These fans have been living on their nerves for the past eight years whenever the provincial championship comes around.

Now they are back in business at least and with a short trip to Mullingar for a derby against Westmeath the fans will travel in force, with the winners facing Kildare or Wexford in the semi-final.

This was a very strong performance from Offaly; they dominated the game apart from a Longford flourish midway through the first half thanks to the luckiest goal we are likely to see this year, 'scored' by Barry McKeon.

For the first time in many years there was a bit of the old Offaly cutting edge yesterday as they tackled harder, grabbed a load of turnovers, moved the ball with the foot mainly as opposed to the hand and shot points from all distances and angles.

Happy days indeed for manager Pat Flanagan, but being the realist that he is he knows that conceding 2-13 against a very ordinary Longford team will not cause panic stations in Westmeath.

A few players really stood out for Offaly, and that is something that has not been common in recent years, where mediocre players seemed to proliferate in the tricolour jersies.

Graham Guilfoyle gave a massive presence yesterday, and Eoin Carroll and Niall Smith dominated midfield, laying the platform for 11 Offaly players to get on the scoresheet.

Perhaps intimidated by Offaly's hard but fair tackling, the Longford players too often resorted to holding onto the ball rather than releasing it to some very talented forwards they have like Robbie Smith and James McGivney.

Offaly, on the other hand, let the ball do the work, and to good effect.

Another welcome surprise for Offaly fans was the return to something like his old form by Niall McNamee, particularly when he was moved away from the goal area - he proceeded to give a masterclass of intelligent distribution that led to a bagful of scores as well as getting four points himself.

A big factor in this performance from both teams was the venue.

This should have been a home game for Longford, for whom Glennon Brothers Pearse Park has become a fortress, with Offaly among the visitors who have struggled there.

But because the stand there has been declared out of bounds for some time now the game was switched to Tullamore and this was very demoralising for the Longford players and indeed the GAA public in the county who are not very happy with this saga.

Nobody could blame Donal McElligot, Diarmuid Masterson or sub Colm P Smith for Longford's heavy defeat, but overall their team lack the physical drive to stay with the better county sides at present.

Since last year, the Longford team has been almost completely rebuilt and they looked very inexperienced by comparison with Offaly.

And their forthcoming six-week wait for the qualifiers is a disaster for any county beaten this weekend as they must take a break and then start all over again. There has to be a better way of doing things.

I am sure the Leinster Council did not consider it that way but condensing six of their 11 teams into a 26-hour period in mid-May for what should be glamour games of the season reflects the dire situation that football has descended to in the biggest GAA province.

Unnoticed

Carlow, Louth, Wicklow and Laois were practically off the radar for most people for the Saturday double-bill in Portlaoise and yesterday's game in Tullamore largely went by unnoticed too as far as the wider GAA world is concerned.

Yet it is not that many years since all of these and similar games were very big events for all these counties and eagerly awaited by the fans.

Dublin's domination and a decline elsewhere leaves the Leinster Championship in a wasteland.

Normally there would have been huge interest in the Offaly-Longford game yesterday because of the fact that along with Wexford, Westmeath and Kildare, one of those five will reach the Leinster final.

Yet only 5,023 turned out on a glorious summer day in O'Connor Park yesterday - we remember who will be waiting to play in that decider!

This weak section consists of four teams who played in Division 3 this year and one in Division 4, which explains the wholesale apathy around the place.

When Offaly played Longford in Pearse Park in 1984 over 18,000 crammed in to watch Matt Connor rescue a barely deserved draw for Offaly in the closing minutes. How times change!

Irish Independent

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