McDonnell undaunted by 'great challenge' of Tyrone assignment
IT MAY look like the draw from hell, but when Offaly's footballers woke up yesterday to find they'd drawn Tyrone in the All-Ireland qualifiers their first reaction was one of delight.
"Playing Tyrone is something completely different for us. Our players would have grown up watching them playing in Croke Park so getting an opportunity now to pit themselves against them is a great challenge," Offaly manager Emmet McDonnell said.
"A bad draw for us would have been something like Limerick (who beat them in the Division 4 final) or Tipperary, who we beat in the last round of the league.
"The immediate reaction of our players is actually great excitement at the prospect of playing Tyrone," McDonnell added.
"We will have nothing to lose, there will be absolutely no pressure on us and our supporters are always great so we'd be hopeful of getting a big crowd there to get behind us."
Mickey Harte's Tyrone, knocked out of Ulster by All-Ireland champions Donegal, will be making an exceptionally rare trip to Tullamore and Offaly are hopeful that home advantage and support will be worth a couple of scores to them.
Statistics from recent seasons certainly underline that if underdogs are to take a big scalp in the qualifiers then they have got to strike when the iron is hot and that is when teams have home advantage in the first round.
In last year's first round there were six home victories compared to just two away, with the home wins including Longford's defeat of Derry and Roscommon's victory over Armagh.
In the second round, home and away victories were evenly split (4-4) and in Round 3 there was only a single home win compared to three for visitors.
A year earlier the 'home bounce' in Round 1 was just as stark.
One game (Louth v Meath) was played at a neutral venue but otherwise there were five home victories compared to just two away.
Those five included London's historic defeat of Fermanagh in Ruislip, Wicklow's surprise victory over Sligo in Aughrim and notable home victories also for Offaly over Monaghan and Antrim over Westmeath.
Teams who bow out of their provinces at the first hurdle can be vulnerable to a lack of morale and a loss of personnel, especially losing players to America for the rest of the summer.
Laois have been particularly badly hit since their Leinster exodus at the hands of Louth this summer.
They have lost Brendan Quigley, Kevin Meaney, Gary Walsh and Damien O'Connor to the States and the draw has thrown them an away game against neighbours Carlow.
Under-pressure Sligo, still reeling from their London defeat, face a difficult trip to Division 2 champions Derry, particularly as they have since lost Tony Taylor and Brian Egan (to America) and James Kilcullen (doubtful with a jaw injury).
However, David Kelly did make a club appearance last weekend to give them a glimmer of hope that he might play some part.
Westmeath (against Fermanagh), Galway (versus Tipperary), Armagh (home to Wicklow), Louth (versus Antrim) and Longford all have home advantage also.
The latter's draw pits them against Division 4 champions Limerick, who only knocked them out at the second-round stage last year after extra-time, in a game that was played in Longford.
Offaly have lost some key players since Kildare dispatched them from Leinster.
Midfielder Brian Connor and substitute Johnny Moloney have gone to America for the summer and versatile forward Anton Sullivan had surgery on a shoulder problem in the past 10 days, which will keep him out until the start of next season.
But McDonnell has beefed up his panel by calling up several newcomers, not least Callum Boland of Doon, a winger with Buccaneers and an underage international who has become available now that his rugby season is over.
Also called up are Mark Dunne, who plays midfield for Rhode, Jason Devery (Erin Rovers) and Padraig Bracken, who plays midfield with St Sylvester's in Dublin.