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Offaly long way back to the summit

WESTMEATH v OFFALY

(Mullingar, Tomorrow 2.0)

HOW the once-mighty have fallen. The past week saw the Hurling 2020 Committee unveil its report and, while most of the media focus was on proposed rule changes, chairman Liam Sheedy was keen to stress his committee's primary concern: hurling participation.

Which brings us to Offaly.

For the purposes of improving standards, the various hurling counties were split into three distinct groups: the top nine counties came under the heading "protect the game"; then came nine mid-ranking counties ("grow the game"); followed by the minnows ("develop the game").

Offaly, you've guessed it, came in the middle tier. For the All-Ireland champions of 1981, '85, '94 and '98, it's no longer a case of protecting the game but growing it.

This hardly constitutes a surprise for a county that, lest we forget, lost to Kilkenny by 26 points last June.

Speaking this week, Sheedy was keen to pinpoint the good work already started on the ground in Offaly, with a "bottom-up approach" to revitalise the game. "We're not trying to label anyone," he added, "but I do think we need to be open and honest in terms of where the game is at and where you want to take it."

Once upon a time, Offaly losing to Westmeath would have been unthinkable ... today they both belong in the same "develop the game" group. For all that, the visitors to prevail.

VERDICT: Offaly

CARLOW v NUI GALWAY

(Carlow, Tomorrow 12.30)

PAT ENGLISH is the man entrusted with the tough task of keeping Carlow hurling on an even keel, but he has some heavyweight 'advisory' assistance in the guise of John Allen, of Cork and Limerick managerial fame.

VERDICT: NUI Galway

ANTRIM v DIT

(St Paul's Belfast, Tomorrow 2.0)

TRYING to predict these county v college openers is a minefield. Home advantage, perhaps?

VERDICT: Antrim

LAOIS v UCD

(Abbeyleix, Tomorrow 2.0)

THE hard work continues apace, in Laois, and we suspect that Cheddar Plunkett's men will hit the ground running here.

VERDICT: Laois


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