Offaly chief admits Leinster expansion has raised the bar
The three-year trial that involves Galway and Antrim participating in the Leinster championship concludes next season but already it looks a formality that the invitation from the eastern province will extend west and north on a more permanent basis.
Galway's draw with Offaly in Croke Park on Sunday, preceded by Antrim forcing Offaly to extra-time in a quarter-final three weeks earlier and Wexford's intense pressurising of Galway until the final quarter on the same weekend, has justified the move to expand a provincial championship that was on its death bed just two years ago.
Kilkenny's rout of Dublin on Sunday apart, the Leinster championship has clawed back some of the ground it has lost on Munster over the last decade.
Galway have now been involved in two of the best games Leinster hurling has had in recent times, the Offaly game and last year's classic semi-final encounter in Tullamore when Kilkenny had to dig deep to win by five points.
Even the most die-hard opponents to the arrival of Galway in particular have had to concede that the rising tide has lifted all boats.
"If we win Saturday night's replay we'll be able to say that with more conviction," admitted Offaly chairman Pat Teehan.
"There would still be some objections that have tradition and geography as their origin. Personally, I'd have no great objection to it. It does appear to have been of benefit all round," he conceded.
Offaly's performance to draw with the league champions is undoubtedly their best result in
the province for quite some time and may even have been a victory if a fourth-minute Ger Farragher sideline, that clearly went wide, had not been deemed a point.
"I didn't see it myself and 'The Sunday Game' didn't show it, but it was clear from the reaction of the Galway crowd -- the groans of disappointment suggested it was wide," said Teehan.
"We felt the linesman on the Hogan Stand side had a good view of it and saw that it was wide.
"From what we could see, he communicated the decision to the referee but was overruled.
"It's a pity there isn't greater technology to determine scores like this and greater vigilance on behalf of all the officials," Teehan added.
Six years ago, Offaly were also the victims of a point that wasn't in their Leinster football first round against Westmeath, a 'point' that ultimately clinched it for Westmeath and set them on the path to their first Leinster title.
Teehan admitted the fixing of the replay for Saturday night in Portlaoise was not "ideal" but agreed that the Leinster Council was left with very little choice, with Galway playing football in Pearse Stadium the following day.
"We'd have a bit of an issue with it. We have three games over the weekend, the footballers at 2.0 on Saturday and the minor hurlers on Sunday (2.0) in Tullamore against Kilkenny," Teehan added.
Meanwhile, the Leinster Council have defended the decision to fix both semi-finals for Croke Park on the basis that it attracted a greater crowd -- 25,260 -- than a provincial venue would have and that the pitch was in such resplendent condition.
"The word coming back from the players was that it was in fantastic shape, great for hurling," said chief executive Michael Delaney.
"I don't think it would be fair to deny players that opportunity when it is available."
Delaney said the Jones's Road venue offers families an opportunity to travel together to games that other venues can't.
"There were a lot of families there on Sunday," Delaney added. "It's a day out and when you consider all those factors, it's the right choice to play the semi-finals together there, one we wouldn't hesitate doing again."