Consequences of relegation would be 'terrible' for Offaly hurling
This month's Offaly County Board meeting made for grim reading in terms of where Faithful hurling is at and the potential consequences of relegation from Division 1B of the league.
Kevin Martin's new-look side head to O'Moore Park tonight (7.0) to face Laois with both fighting for survival and chairman Tommy Byrne believes dropping to the third tier is "the worst thing that could possibly happen".
Byrne feels that maintaining their 1B status is more important than winning the Joe McDonagh Cup, a competition they enter having fallen out of the Leinster SHC in humiliating fashion last summer. "If we go out of that (Division 1B), you don't want to think of the consequences. The consequences will be terrible for Offaly hurling," Byrne is quoted in this week's 'Midland Tribune'.
Offaly's fall from grace - having won four All-Ireland SHC titles from 1981 to 1998 - has been a spectacular one and former referee, and current Clara GAA chairman Brian Gavin called the effort levels of some players into question.
"The whole culture has been challenged by the manager and it has backfired on him. There is a culture there with seven or eight players. Some of them are with the county in January, February and March to get themselves right for the club," Gavin said.
Parted Offaly have lost their five competitive games this year - and already parted ways with their strength and conditioning coach - with key players like Shane Dooley, Joe Bergin, Cillian Kiely and Ben Conneely all missing their opening two league defeats.
A miserly 0-19 was mustered in those comprehensive losses to Waterford and Dublin (they have a score difference of -40 after conceding 2-28 and 2-19) and a host of regulars have opted out.
The picture is far from rosy in Laois, however, with manager Eddie Brennan bemoaning the absence of several key figures with last year's skipper Ross King one of many to stepping away.
With Carlow picking up a shock draw against Galway - and with home games against Offaly and Laois to come - that leaves them in a strong position to book a quarter-final place and increases the stakes for tonight's Midlands derby.
Both are facing a relegation dogfight and could yet meet later in a play-off but victory for either tonight would lift spirits and stop a deeper rot setting in.