Tuesday 23 July 2019

John Brennan: 'The many reasons behind Offaly's sad decline - and why it will take a long time to turn things around'

A dejected Oisin Kelly of Offaly after the Joe McDonagh Cup Round 5 match between Kerry and Offaly at Austin Stack Park, Tralee in Kerry. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
A dejected Oisin Kelly of Offaly after the Joe McDonagh Cup Round 5 match between Kerry and Offaly at Austin Stack Park, Tralee in Kerry. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

John Brennan

And so Offaly will play hurling in the sport’s third tier next season.

Their two-point loss to Kerry in Tralee condemns the county to Christy Ring Cup action next summer.

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Which means that Offaly cannot play in either the Leinster championship or the Liam MacCarthy competition in 2020.

The county’s hurlers are now on the bottom rung of a ladder they have been descending for years.

The county that gave such excitement through men like Pat Delaney, Padraig Horan and Johnny Flaherty in the 1980s, and sundry Whelahans, Dooleys and Troys in the 1990s is now at rock bottom.

Offaly last won the Leinster senior hurling championship in 1995.

An All-Ireland was won 'through the back door' in 1998, but they have not won a provincial minor or Under-21 crown since 2000.

Just a fortnight ago, the Offaly minors of this year were beaten by Kildare after extra-time.

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As one person from the county reflected ruefully after that result, "our county teams have forgotten how to win."

There are many reasons why Offaly hurling has come to this.

Firstly, the sport is only really played in a small area of a small county, centred around Birr.

When you have few enough players you have to get every single good one to buy into your effort.

And there are legions of stories of poor structures at underage levels and lads not committing to the Offaly cause at all age-groups.

Forcing all the hurlers to play their home inter-county matches in the rebuilt Tullamore ground, away from the heartland of Birr, did not go down well either with many of the Offaly faithful.

To all that you can add a county board that, a few years ago, ignored the findings of a group they had tasked with producing a report on how to improve the structures in the county.

It’s a sad day for a sport, that has few enough counties competing at the top level, to lose one that gave so much to the sport between 1980 and 2000.

But now the people of Offaly have to turn around the sport of hurling in the county.

That will be like turning around one of those big oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

It takes a lot of time, and you are exposed to even more dangers while doing it.

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