'It can be very hard to arrest that slide' - Why things might get even worse for Offaly hurling
Offaly will play in the Christy Ring Cup and Division 2A of the National League in 2020 after a catastrophic season featuring two relegations - but the Faithful county's hurlers might not be at rock bottom yet.
Offaly lost all four of their games in the Joe McDonagh Cup this season, including a 1-18 to 1-16 defeat against Kerry last weekend that sealed their fate, which will now see them play in hurling's third tier next year after slipping out of the sport's top 15 counties.
It has been a remarkable fall from grace for a county who last won an All-Ireland 21 years ago and appeared in the final in 2000. However, Offaly has since fallen into a sharp decline, with poor on-field performances matched with plenty of criticism of the county board set-up.
Speaking on The Throw-In, Independent.ie's GAA podcast in association with Bord Gais Energy, former Offaly hurler and Irish Independent GAA reporter Michael Verney expressed his fear that things might get worse for the team before they get better.
With key men like Shane Dooley and Joe Bergin into their thirties, Verney worries that Offaly might lose some of their best forward talent, which would hamper their ability to get back to hurling's top table.
"When you get on that downward spiral, it can be very hard to arrest that slide," Verney said.
"A couple of our key marksmen will probably retire I'd imagine. Maybe four of our best six forwards are probably at that age where they might not be around. It would be worrying enough. Everyone thought going down to the Joe McDonagh that they would just bounce back but it doesn't work like that. When apathy sets in and some of the best players aren't taking phone calls or accepting invites into the panel, it isn't great."
Offaly would have maintained their Joe McDonagh Cup status had they beaten Kerry in Tralee, but were dealt two early blows with the sending off of Peter Geraghty followed by Dooley missing a penalty. Verney says that uncertainty around team selection, including the dropping of Bergin by interim manager Joachim Kelly, was 'bizarre'.
"The game turned after the sending off after seven minutes," Verney said.
"You are playing almost 70 minutes with 14 men. We missed a penalty five minutes later. Kerry used the man an awful lot better and Shane Conway was excellent. It was bizarre, one of our best players of the last 12 years, didn't start the biggest game Offaly have had in 20 years. I thought it was bizarre.
"Morale in the county was unbelievably low before the game started."
Tipperary legend Brendan Cummins, who is a member of the Kerry back-room team, added that it is crucial for the future of Offaly hurling that their veteran players stay on ahead of their Christy Ring campaign in 2020.
"Going down to the Christy Ring, the problem is motivation," Cummins said.
"I think Offaly will beat any of the teams in the Christy Ring pulling up but they need Shane Dooley and Joe Bergin to stay for a year to stabilise things and show young players how to behave as an Offaly hurler. There's nothing worse when you go down a level, to sink to that level and attitude. We will see who are the guys who stand up in Offaly. The first thing is to see who is managing the team. I saw Shane Dooley and Bergin after the game and to see the tears in their eyes would break your heart."