AS low watermarks in Offaly football history go, last June took some beating. But beat it, they did.
Hammered by Wexford in Leinster by 14 points, their mire prompted Michael Duignan to publicly admonish certain elements of the group's behaviour and speaking on RTÉ radio after the defeat, he lashed: “There are discipline issues with the footballers in this county. They don't want to train, they have no pride in their jersey, they're going on the beer and all that sort of thing.”
The jibe drew an angry rebuttal from then manager Tom Cribben and the footballers went on to unexpectedly beat Monaghan by eight points before succumbing meekly to their now customary early summer exit in Limerick.
“All panels have their issues with discipline,” says St Sylvester's man John Coughlan, who soldiered with the Faithful cause last year.
“When Tom Cribben was there, I really felt that by the end of his tenure, he had got the right panel of players together and things were moving in the right direction but then he went and I suppose for the county board, it did take a while to appoint a manager.”
Still, the damage was done and worse was to come.
First, there was the protracted, messy and unsatisfactory process to replace Cribben, resulting in Gerry Cooney taking charge and just about every suitable Offaly candidate jilted.
At that point, Coughlan had made a decision to go back to college in DCU and so couldn't give the necessary |commitment required.
Successive shoulder and knee injuries meant he only started on the bench for Syls in Wednesday night's Dublin SFC victory over O’Toole’s and, as he admits himself: “It would have been hard to be travelling down to a
county panel when I'm only just trying to get back into my club squad. But I'm back on track now and who knows what could happen next year.”
As for Cooney's ill-fated spell, Coughlan says, “it wouldn't be fair” to make a full comment, but rumours of disharmony and wild disorganisation pre-empted relegation to Division 4 and Cooney's wholly expected departure.
“I think Tom Coffey will sort out these issues. By the end of Tom Cribben's tenure, he was starting to get a handle on it. But Tom Coffey is at the heartbeat of Offaly football and he knows what's going on,” he says.
All recent noises have been positive, though. Coffey is in and he means business and, as Coughlan explains: “He now has a major core of players there that want to be there and want to play and perform for Offaly.
“But they're a fierce talented group of lads. You couldn't question their talent. It's just been a rough couple of years.”
That, in turn, has had a knock-on effect.
“The Offaly public might be a little bit hard on them at the moment,” outlines Coughlan.
“The Offaly supporters, the one thing they ask for whether they win or lose is a performance.
“They expect that every time an Offaly team go out onto the pitch and maybe that hasn't happened,” added the big Malahide man.
“But they have to understand that
there is a building process there at the moment. They have to get out and get behind the team.
“It can be fierce disheartening at times when you go out in O'Connor Park and there's more away supporters than home supporters.
“It should be a bit of a fortress and it would be great if they could make it a fortress.”
Quite how the rebuilding process is going is uncertain and a truer reflection may not be seen until next year.
For a start, Kildare aren't likely to give them much scope to heal in Portlaoise on Sunday and, after that, the rest of the summer is completely unpredictable.
“It's going to be very difficult for Offaly,” Coughlan acknowledges. “I don't think Tom Coffey will have been able to get everything done within the few weeks.
“For Kildare, there might be a bit of pressure on them given that they've never won a Leinster under Kieran McGeeney and you never know what can happen in the first round of the championship.”
He adds: “They're being tipped as being one of the top four teams in the country. But those players haven't achieved much success yet. And the Kildare public, the way they are, they will be putting a bit of pressure on them.
“The expectation on Kildare might just affect them a little bit.”