Blame for Offaly demise can't fall solely on Brian Whelehan
Following Sunday's Leinster SHC defeat to Laois, Offaly hurling is left staring into the abyss but the blame cannot rest solely at the feet of the Faithful’s favourite son.
Offaly manager Brian Whelehan is somebody who is married to Offaly hurling as both a player and a manager, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health.
Whelehan won two All Ireland medals in the 90s earning him a place on the team of the millennium following a prestigious career; however one of his greatest achievements was how he soldiered on when their slide began.
In truth the county have been in the gutter since the All Ireland final appearance in 2000 becoming accustomed to bowing out of the championship as the swallows arrive.
Once the epitome of everything good that Offaly stood for, Brian Whelehan suddenly finds himself the villain of the piece as the County slumped to its lowest ebb.
The dynamic Birr man has over the years stuck with the midlanders when so many others would have abandoned ship.
Those who need a reminder that of Brian Whelehan’s undying will to do his best for his county, need only look at his final game in the county colours.
In the final minute of the 2006 All Ireland qualifier with Clare, Offaly were being trounced and Whelehan stepped up to take a 65 in the last minute, he could of tapped it over capping of a distinguished career with a final score.
But he dropped it in hoping to save his team mates some grace, and when the county came calling two years ago Whelahan stepped forward once more, little did he know he was like a lamb to the slaughter.
The tradition in hurling when a team enters decline is to appoint a “hurling man” and he‘ll inspire the players and restore pride.
Management has changed however; it’s no longer a case of just going in banging the hurl off the wall and sending the rallying cry.
Managers these days are facilitators to players needs; they provide structure, coaching, fitness, dietitians, physios, gym programmes and everything else to give their team that extra edge.
Whelahan was never in a position to provide his players with these amenities and he has become a scapegoat for a county board that is failing to embrace the professionalism the GAA is heading towards.
We see a constant tug of war between the County board and the team and it is farcical that the players have to go Tipperary to train under lights in winter and the hurlers have also been locked out of O’Connor Park before.
The jury’s out on whether Whelahan could of put these structures in place with the help of the county board but the reality is that he never was given that liberty.
The dark clouds have hovered pver Offaly hurling for some time but they would have seen themselves as ahead of Laois and only slightly behind Wexford in recent years. But the cold hard fact for Offaly now is that they aren't even competing at the same level as these counties anymore.
Liam Dunne's Wexford side are a different animal now in terms of preparation, their revival last year was in no small part to conditioning, while Cheddar Plunkett has given Laois the basis to train and prepare like the top teams.
Last year, Offaly were hurt by Ger Loughnane's 'fat arses' comment but there was an element of truth to it.
It's blatantly apparent that Offaly are light years behind in terms of physicality and conditioning, there is an abundance of talent, Shane Dooley, Brian Carroll and Joe Bergin are top, top talents
Three years ago, Laois hurler Willie Hyland was ready to throw in the towel, he was demoralised. Laois players didn't have the same access to conditioning or gyms that other teams had, how were they supposed to compete?
Plenty of Offaly hurlers asking the same question themselves this week. Why are they neglected so much by their county board?
Back then Laois and Hyland were whipping boys, things have changed, granted Laois are by no means Championship contenders or have the same hurlers as Kilkenny or Tipperary but at least now they enter at a level playing field.
They prepare the same as everybody else, tactically, physically, mentally. It’s no longer amateurs against athletes.
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