Faithful take another step on their road to recovery
Offaly 4-16 Longford 1-12 Allianz NFL Division 4 Final
When he emerged from the dressing room, Pat Flanagan was already looking ahead as he repeated a familiar refrain.
Offaly had been hugely impressive in dismantling Longford but he stressed they were a project and a Division 4 title was just one step on the road.
"My aim when I got this job, and I said it openly and I keep saying it, is to get out of Division 4 and get out of Division 3 and be in the top two, top three teams in Leinster in the next two or three years and that's where we're aiming to be," Flanagan said.
In terms of their development, Offaly reached a few landmarks on Saturday when they claimed a first league title since 2008.
It was also their first win over Longford in league or championship since 1997 and a first win in Croke Park since 2006.
And it came about thanks to a five-star second-half performance.
Having led by four points at the interval (1-7 to 0-6), they hit three second-half goals to wipe out a Longford side that folded with alarming ease.
Offaly looked much more potent when Niall McNamee switched inside and Paul McConway burst the net with a goal in the 45th minute that helped his side establish a nine-point lead.
Longford's cut the gap to four when Shane Doyle found the net, but Offaly soon re-established their dominance. Graham Guilfoyle and the excellent Willie Mulhall raised further green flags to go with Nigel Dunne's effort in the first half.
Longford's response in the closing 20 minutes was three points. Offaly hit 2-6 in the same period.
A skirmish with ten minutes to go saw both teams reduced to 14 men when Anton Sullivan and Diarmuid Masterson picked up second yellows. It mattered little as Offaly already had the heavy lifting done.
There was no sign of the demolition job to come during a sluggish opening that saw the teams tied on three points each after 20 minutes though the game gradually opened up thanks to the largely orthodox style employed by both sides.
And Pat Flanagan reckons that his side could express themselves freely with promotion secured.
"We said at the start of the year and our target was to get out of Division 4," he said. "When we did that, the shackles were off a little bit and I think we showed that.
"We played with a bit of a fear factor in a couple of the games during the league campaign.
"Certainly in the second half when we opened up today we showed some of the quality that we have. I still think there's more in us, there needs to be an awful lot more in us and we have to go and find it."
Longford manager Jack Sheedy emerged from a sullen dressing room but wasn't looking for excuses.
"They played better than we did, they used the ball better than we did, they made better decisions, they worked harder. They were more economical with the ball, just played better, probably wanted it that bit more.
"They've been on the back of three defeats now to Longford in the last 12/18 months.
"At some stage down the line you're going to stop taking that and you're going to try and get back and redress the situation and they did that. In fairness, they were very good.
"It had nothing to do with our preparations, our preparations were good.
"Maybe (it was) a sense of having qualified and gotten promoted (already), maybe thinking about three weeks' time, with a sense of today being not as important as it was a couple of weeks ago or as it is in three weeks' time.
"Maybe that got into fellas' psyche and diluted their desire, I don't know."
The prize for the winner of the championship clash between the two sides in three weeks' time is a date with Dublin.
Offaly seem to be holding all the aces but Flanagan was keen to play down the significance of Saturday's victory.
"Let's take it into perspective. It's a game won. I'd say they might have started focusing on the championship after 40, 45 minutes. We've just to get our feet back down on the ground."
Scorers - Offaly: W Mulhall 1-5 (2f), N Dunne 1-3, N McNamee 0-4, G Guilfoyle, P McConway 1-0 each, B Allen 0-2 (1f), A Sullivan, N Smith 0-1 each. Longford: B Kavanagh 0-6 (5f), S Doyle 1-0, F McGee (1f), D Masterson 0-2 each, R McNerney (1f), M Quinn 0-1 each.
Offaly - A Mulhall 8; B Darby 7, P McConway 8, D Brady 7; N Darby 7, J Moloney 8, J O'Connor 7; G Guilfoyle 8, N Smith 8; E Carroll 7, N McNamee 8, A Sullivan 6; B Allen 7, N Dunne 8, W Mulhall 9. Subs: P Cunningham 6 for E Carroll (57), N Bracken for Allen (64), E Rigney for B Darby (66), C Donohoe for N Darby (67), K Mulally for Mulhall (69), J Evans for McNamee (70).
Longford - P Collum 6; D Brady 5, B O'Farrell 6, P Foy 5; C P Smyth 5, D Masterson 6, E Williams 5; B Gilleran 6, K Diffley 6; M Quinn 6, P McKeon 5, R McEntire 5; R McNerney 5, B Kavanagh 6, F McGee 6. Subs: S Doyle 5 for McKeon (h-t), C Farrelly 5 for Williams (47), A Rowan 5 for Smyth, D Reynolds 5 for McGee (both 58), F Battrim for Foy, P Gill for McNerney (both 67).
Ref - N Cullen (Fermanagh)