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Offaly's misery to go on as Cats won't stray from winning streak

THE history of this fixture in the Brian Cody era is a story of unremitting misery for all Offaly fans, but there are a few morsels of hope ahead of tomorrow's fateful date with Black-and-Amber destiny.

They are as follows – for the first time in recent memory, Offaly have home advantage for a Championship match with Kilkenny.

And for the first time since they came under Cody's yoke of oppression, Offaly face the Cats minus a certain Henry Shefflin.

And that, my fearful Faithful, is just about it. There is no conceivable, logical way that Offaly can hope to slay the giant in their own back yard, no matter how upbeat are the dressing room messages emanating from Ollie Baker's camp.

Just look at this fixture since Cody assumed the Marble City throne. Eight Championship collisions delivering a cumulative scoreboard chasm of 118 points, the margins differing from a low of nine points (2002) to a high of 31 (2005).

Offaly have accumulated five goals in those eight games – as many as they conceded in the very first outing, the '99 Leinster final. Kilkenny have amassed 26 goals in the same period.

True, Shefflin's injury-enforced absence will deny Kilkenny at least some of their renowned potency, but will it really prove such a defining issue? Not here.

It's worth recalling that, whereas these counties used to do summer battle on a near-annual basis, they haven't met since 2008 when Kilkenny romped home by 18 points. Back then, the greatest team of all-time was fast approaching its peak, but while many of its constituent legs are five years older today, Kilkenny have not sat still.

EVOLUTION

Even this year, the League has delivered more than just another trophy adornment for Nowlan Park – Eoin Murphy's snaffling of the number one jersey and Lester Ryan's revelatory midfield form being the most notable signs of evolution.

The League for Offaly, meanwhile, was another tale of the underwhelming. An ambitious promotion target from Division 1B was scuppered by defeat in the games that mattered, against Dublin and Limerick.

They narrowly edged out Wexford (how the mighty have fallen in tandem), but required a late Joe Bergin goal to avoid a humbling loss to 14 Carlow men. Ergo, there is nothing in Offaly's recent form guide to suggest they will spring an ambush here.

A more optimistic assessment will point to the success of two Offaly clubs, previously unheralded at this level, reaching the last two All-Ireland finals – surely that suggests the grassroots game is in relatively rude health?

But inter-county is the ultimate benchmark and unless everything falls Offaly's way – a flying start to energise the partisan locals, a performance for the ages from Shane Dooley, a few lucky breaks and a Kilkenny performance blighted by complacency, lethargy and/or more injuries – it's impossible to see the hosts getting close.

In the circumstances, keeping it to single digits would be an achievement in itself.

ODDS: Offaly 10/1, Draw 25/1, Kilkenny 1/25

VERDICT: Kilkenny


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