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Green flags keep Offaly at hurling's top table

OFFALY 5-17 ANTRIM 0-18 Seán Fay NEITHER interim Antrim co-manager Joe Edwards nor Offaly boss John McIntyre seemed overly happy with the long-winded nature of the All-Ireland relegation playoffs, with Offaly now safe after Saturday's victory at Croke Park, while Antrim prepare for a loser-goes-down showdown with Laois.

Despite having been presented with an extra chance to avoid the drop against Offaly, Edwards said he would have been happier if his side had just played off against the other bottom placed finisher from the group stages (which would actually have been Dublin).

"I don't see any benefit in drawing it out like this," he said, "the players get restless and at this time of the year you should either be looking to progress in the championship or else letting your players go home to hurl with their clubs."

McIntyre, meanwhile, actually thought that his side had avoided the drop when they had beaten Dublin in the group stages, and was surprised to be called back for another game.

"I thought when we beat Dublin it would be the end of it, but this relegation trap-door was bigger than I thought, but then again, this year everything seems to have been conspiring against us," he said.

There were spells in Saturday's game when Offaly again seemed to fall asleep and allow their opponents dictate proceedings, but some excellent goal-taking saw them always out in front against the Saffrons.

First-half goals from Brendan Murphy, Brian Carroll, and Joe Brady allowed Offaly to go in at the break leading 3-11 to 0-10, with two second-half strikes from Michael Cordial ensuring that the victory would be a comprehensive one.

"We were just professional about it today, and I salute the players for working in a very difficult environment over the past two months," said McIntyre. "It would have been easy for the whole thing to have fallen in a heap, but we kept the show on the road and thankfully we finished the year on a modestly high note."

Edwards, who helped take over from Dinny Cahill at short notice, and who declares himself a member of "the only management team in Ireland whose sole ambition is to make ourselves redundant," had no arguments about the result.

"You can't let in five goals, especially when two or three of them are stupid goals, against any team at this level and expect to win, so no excuses, we've just got to pick ourselves up and go for Laois," he said.

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He also reaffirmed his commitment to the Antrim cause during a difficult time, and emphasised how important a victory in the final relegation playoff is to the county. "Dinny did a great job, and it was a big shock to everybody when he left, but I'm an Antrim man and I'll serve Antrim in any capacity, even if it be just carrying the sticks out on the field, I don't care," he said.

"When we were asked to do this job, we had to move reasonably quickly at it. We might not have got everything right, but we did our best, and asked the players to try and give their best too, and that is all you can do.

"Now we just have to get training and go beat Laois, nothing has changed in that respect, the target still is to be playing championship hurling next year, and it is very important to all of Antrim that we don't drop out, as to attract a new manager, we need to have the championship to look forward to," he added.

SCORERS - Offaly: B Carroll 1-8 (4f); M Cordial 2-3; B Murphy 1-3; J Brady 1-0; M O'Hara, G Hanniffy, D Murray 0-1 each. Antrim: B McCall 0-7 (5f); J McIntosh 0-5 (2f, 1 '65); M Scullion, J Connelly, B Herron, C Hammill, K McKee ('65), C Herron 0-1 each.

OFFALY - B Mullins; K Brady, G Oakley, D Franks; Brian Whelahan, R Hanniffy, B Teehan; D Hoctor, G Hanniffy; M Cordial, M O'Hara, B Murphy; B Carroll, J Brady, A Hanrahan. Subs: M Corcoran for R Hanniffy (41), D Murray for Hanrahan (53), P Cleary for Oakley (57), Barry Whelahan for G Hanniffy (68), P Healion for K Brady (68).

ANTRIM - G Magee; M Kettle, G Bell, C Herron; G Cunningham, K McKeegan, J Campbell; M Scullion, J Connolly; M Herron, C McGuickian, P Richmond; J McIntosh, B McFall, A Delargy. Subs: B Herron for McGuickian (31), C Hammill for Delargy (43), M Cambridge for Cunningham (45), C Cunning for McKeegan (53), J Scullion for Richmond (57).

REF - J Sexton (Limerick).


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