Faithful facing rocky road but Kelly believes the right seeds have been sown
Published 16/10/2015 | 02:30
Steps have been taken to ensure Offaly can dine at the GAA's top table in the future but new hurling manager Eamonn Kelly appreciates the rocky road ahead.
When driving along the N52 between Birr and Tullamore, it's impossible to miss the construction site just outside Kilcormac with the Faithful Fields Offaly GAA Training Centre, costing an estimated €2.25m, under development.
Croke Park was the perfect backdrop for yesterday's fundraising drive, with the massive facelift expected to help restore Offaly's dented pride.
It's the scene of many great hurling days for the Faithful, but far removed from the low ebb from which Kelly will start his preparations in a few weeks.
"When can Offaly win an All-Ireland? That's a very difficult one to answer. I might have a better idea this time next year having given a year," Kelly said.
"I don't know what players are going to say yet. Will it be, 'Yeah, I'm up for the fight' or 'I've had enough'. "There's plenty hurlers there if you can get the right guys to commit. The effort that we put in will define the results we get."
His predecessor Brian Whelahan struggled to replicate his extraordinary feats on the field with the leading hurling county slipping off the radar.
Qualification for the Leinster Championship will be sought through the round-robin stages for a first time, a far cry from four All-Ireland wins in a golden era between 1981 and '98.
"We're with Westmeath, Carlow and Kerry - unfortunately from my side of things; guys that I worked with over the past few years and I have to meet them again," he said.
"All those counties are putting in huge work and we're just back there with them. We need to get back into the Leinster Championship, it's a priority."
Kelly's conditioning phase will be well under way by late November, the same time as the Michael Duignan-led committee hope to raise the remaining €369,000 for project completion.
Four full-sized training pitches with floodlights, six modern dressing rooms and a weights/circuit training room will help reduce facility-related disasters, highlighted in recent years.
Kelly sees the development as another "building block" to future progress having finalised his backroom team with former Tipperary captain Conor Gleeson enlisted as coach.
"Offaly is a county with huge tradition over the years and I considered it an honour to be asked," he said. "It's in a pretty low place so it's definitely a challenge to see if we can turn it."
Yesterday could prove to be a landmark day as Offaly pledge to recreate the glory of yesteryear.