Tuesday 23 January 2018

Offaly must switch back to Birr or risk ruin -- Regan

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Offaly hurling will be shooting itself in the foot if the county continue to play their home matches in Tullamore, former midfield stalwart Daithi Regan has insisted.

Ahead of the crunch relegation Allianz Division 1 match against Wexford in O'Connor Park, Regan has called on the county board to restore Birr as the home fortress of Faithful hurling.

Admittedly Birr has been out of action for the last few seasons, and even for the earlier league games, the ground was still closed due to work on the terracing and on the pitch -- which is now completed.

But Regan fears that Tullamore will remain the permanent venue for Offaly's home games for financial reasons, and that will be to the detriment of the county team.

Regan, a former Birr player, says his view is shared by the management and players.

"As far as I am aware, the Offaly management even made a request in writing to the Offaly County Board for the matches to return to Birr," said Regan. "The players also want Birr as their home ground.

"Birr is the natural home for Offaly hurling and the county team has always had a better record there. Other counties did not like coming to Birr to play Offaly -- they don't have the same fear of going to Tullamore."

Regan is adamant that supporters from the south of the county, where hurling is strongest, are reluctant to travel to Tullamore for games.

"Obviously, a lot of money has been put into Tullamore and the board feel they have to honour that with all the major games," he said. "But is it doing the hurling teams any good? Absolutely not.

"It's like the Galway footballers not playing in Tuam or the hurlers not playing in Athenry. The natural hinterland for hurling in Offaly is around Birr. People are disgusted that the games have been moved to Tullamore.

"Birr has been ready for the last few weeks. The surface is perfect, it is a tight compact ground that can accommodate 5,000 or 6,000 people and to maximise home support and atmosphere for Offaly's benefit, we have to play our games there."

Sunday's match between the bottom two is arguably the most important game of the entire Division 1 campaign, given what is probably at stake for the losers.

"It will be an unmitigated disaster for either team if they go down to Division 2 again," said Regan, a selector during John McIntyre's last stint as manager from 2005 to '07.

Offaly and Wexford met in the Division 2 final two years ago, when the Faithful County prevailed, and they managed to preserve their Division 1 status last year quite comfortably thanks to wins over Dublin and Limerick.

But injuries have cost them this season and their top-flight status is in jeopardy after a series of disappointing performances.

"The team has a lot of injuries and it is very difficult to replace the players who are missing," said Regan. "But this is a critical game for both teams. You are not going anywhere competing in Division 2.

"I can't see a sequence of realistic events where the team that loses this fixture can stay up. You can't stress the importance of it."

Wexford picked up after their opening-round collapse to Galway with more solid performances against Waterford and Kilkenny, but their last outing against a depleted Dublin team will have shaken their confidence.

Manager Colm Bonnar has consistently railed against a system that doesn't incorporate all the traditional hurling counties in the same division.

Regan says the league was always troublesome for Offaly because of the dearth of numbers they had.

"The only year we won it (1991) was the only year that the team didn't make it to a Leinster final and that was no co-incidence," he said.

"We played our strongest teams for most of the league games and paid the price in the championship."

Irish Independent

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