RESULTS from last weekend's Munster SFC quarter-finals may have sent an ominous chill hurtling towards the midlands, but Emmet McDonnell and his squad are intent on preventing it from freezing Offaly's Leinster championship ambitions for a sixth successive season.
Limerick and Tipperary, fellow travellers with Offaly in Division 4 this year, lost to Cork and Kerry respectively by a combined total of 35 points last weekend, with each of the outsiders scoring the meagre total of eight points. It underlined the capacity for destruction that Division 1 teams possess when they get their game functioning sweetly against lower-ranked opposition.
"We're all aware of how hard it is to bridge the gap but it's all about rising to the challenge as best you can. That's what we will be trying to do against Kildare on Saturday," said McDonnell.
If the league form-line continues, Offaly are in for a big defeat by Kildare, who finished above Cork and Kerry in Division 1. Offaly finished second in Division 4.
It was enough to clinch promotion, thus reaching the first target set by McDonnell when he was appointed last August. Winning a Leinster championship game for the first time since 2007 would also have been high on the agenda but the prospects of delivering it in his first season waned when, for a second successive year, Offaly were paired with Kildare.
"There would have been easier draws but you take what you get," said McDonnell, who at 34 is one of the youngest inter-county managers. He is also the 11th man to have run the Offaly sideline since the start of the millennium.
The Faithful County's managerial upheavals have been many and varied but they are now hoping that their Westmeath import will bring a degree of stability, accompanied by progress, over the coming seasons.
He made a promising start to the season, presiding over three O'Byrne Cup wins, which was one more than Offaly managed in all competitions last year. That was followed by a successful promotion bid in Division 4, leaving Offaly much further advanced than this time last year when they were also preparing to take on Kildare.
That attempt didn't go well as they were beaten by 13 points in Portlaoise on a day when, among other disadvantages, they were physically lighter than the opposition.
Whether they have made progress towards closing that particular gap will become apparent in Croke Park on Saturday evening. McDonnell said that they have worked very hard at raising fitness levels and also at building morale. However, the standard differential between Division 4 and Division 1 still remains a major issue.
"Division 4 is very competitive but at a different level to where Kildare have been operating," he said. "We're under no illusions about the size of the job ahead but Offaly teams have always had great spirit and have often done well as underdogs too."
Five successive first-round defeats in the Leinster championship means that Offaly have to go back to June 2007 for their last provincial win. A ridiculously high managerial turnover – they had two managers in the one season twice over the last four years – added to the instability.
McDonnell's appointment came as something of a surprise as he had no inter-county managerial experience, relying instead on having steered St Mary's Edenderry, where he teaches, to the All-Ireland Colleges title last year.
Former county chairman Pat Teehan, who headed the committee which appointed McDonnell, compared him to Eugene McGee, who enjoyed a hugely successful stint with Offaly, yielding one All-Ireland (1982) and three Leinster (1980, '81, '82) titles.
"When Eugene came in as Offaly manager in the 1970s, his experience was mostly with Sigerson Cup teams, and he turned out to be a big success at inter-county level. We're hoping it will be the same with Emmet," said Teehan at the time of the appointment.
"We were very impressed with him and we now hope he can get on with building something in Offaly."
McGee inherited a richer crop of talent than McDonnell, but then expectations are lower now, so the new Offaly manager can look forward to a reasonable length of time to complete the rebuild.
"It's a young squad and will obviously take time to develop," said McDonnell. "Kildare are a lot further down the road, so it's going to be very hard for us on Saturday, but we certainly won't be found wanting for effort or the right attitude."