Saturday 21 April 2018

Last thing Offaly need this weekend is a hiding - Kelly

Offaly manager, Eamonn Kelly. Photo: Sportsfile
Offaly manager, Eamonn Kelly. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

The dust has barely settled after their shock reversal at the hands of Kerry and now Offaly stare down the barrel of a Kilkenny gun with manager Eamonn Kelly acknowledging that a "hiding" is the last thing they need from their trip to Nowlan Park.

Hopes were high that the Faithful could power to the League quarter-finals after upsetting Wexford the previous week but the former Kingdom boss was left stung by his old charges as Offaly limped into the last eight on scoring difference.

It was a case of one step forward and two steps back but progress has clearly been made under Kelly's regime and Offaly will be forewarned before they renew acquaintances with Kerry in the Leinster SHC round-robin series on May 22.

Before that, however, is the daunting trip to face the Cats, unbeaten since their opening-day defeat to Waterford. And with their last trip to Noreside, a 26-point annihilation in 2014, fresh on their minds, Kelly (above) is eager to keep things "respectable".

"We targeted a quarter-final spot at the start of the league, but not the way we got it. Kerry fought harder than us and we'll be destroyed if we give a similar display at the weekend against Kilkenny," Kelly said candidly.

"Kerry probably would have felt that I shouldn't have gone and they performed like men on a mission. We thought we were bang on building up to it and we've been left searching for answers ever since. Hopefully, we'll get them Sunday.

"It's great to have a game against the reigning All-Ireland champions but they're not going to back off us. We're still learning about guys and we're hoping many of them will step up to this level. We don't have huge expectations but we're definitely hoping to keep it respectable."

Their task could be made more difficult with key attacker Joe Bergin only "50-50" to play after jarring his knee against Kerry while Paddy Rigney and Sean Gardiner are both unlikely to feature.

Kelly feels his panel is getting stronger every week, however, and is pleased with their application, with particular credit paid to former Tipperary skipper Conor Gleeson, who is excelling as hurling coach.

After Sunday, a week of club action means preparation time for a "tight" round-robin series with Westmeath, Carlow and Kerry is slim and the Tipp native is hoping players leave him on a positive note.

Kelly said: "It wasn't easy to come back training after the Kerry game but we're looking for a performance before sending them back to their clubs. We've only three weeks when they return so we want them jumping out of their skin."

Teams have tried, and generally failed, to outfox Brian Cody's Cats but with the pressure off, Kelly hopes his side can express themselves.

If they hit their targets and up their work rate, he feels they can avoid the fate of many other Faithful sides.

"We have our own numbers that we try to hit with regards to tackles, hooks, blocks, turnovers etc and we didn't hit them in the Kerry game. Now it's up to us to deliver a performance," he said.

"Many teams have tried tactics against Kilkenny but they've been blown out of the water. We're going down to hurl with as much freedom as we can, if we do that we should perform. The last thing we need is a hiding."

Irish Independent

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