Thursday 23 November 2017

Offaly need to play their own game and not copy Cats' template – Owens

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

KILKENNY'S dominance of the hurling scene is being helped by the opposition trying to beat them at a game they have perfected – that's the view of former Offaly All-Ireland medal winner Danny Owens, who enjoyed a double coaching triumph last year when he guided Kilcormac-Killoughey to their first county and provincial titles.

Owens said that others are attempting to imitate the Kilkenny approach, even when they don't have players who are suited to it.

"There's no point trying to ape how Kilkenny play and hope you'll be better at it, because you won't be. They have it down to a fine art.

"In my view, you've got to come up with your own style. There's still an awful lot to be said for a fast, direct game where you keep the ball moving as much as possible.

"A lot of teams want to play hurling like football now – get the ball into the hand and hold possession. It's going to be very hard to beat Kilkenny that way. They're the experts at that type of game," he said.

Owens also believes that Kilkenny's many successes in the new millennium have given them a psychological advantage which others find intimidating.

"It's a state-of-mind thing now. Oppositions are facing mental barriers against Kilkenny because of what they have achieved.

"Kilkenny have produced some fantastic teams and players over the last decade or more, but you've always got to believe you can beat them. Otherwise, there's no point going out at all," he said.

Offaly are first up against Kilkenny in this year's championship and are heading into Sunday's Leinster quarter-final in Tullamore as 10/1 outsiders to beat the black-and-amber for the first time since the 1998 All-Ireland final.

Ollie Baker's men take on the huge challenge off an indifferent season in Division 1B last spring where they beat Wexford, Carlow and Antrim, but lost to the top two, Dublin and Limerick.

It's scarcely the sort of form that suggests a shock is imminent, although Owens believes that Offaly will offer much tougher opposition than is generally thought.

"Offaly have always thrived on being the underdogs. I just hope that battling spirit is there again on Sunday.

"Unfortunately, they have had to deal with a lot of injuries and some lads are only just back now, but all that's got to be put to one side. This is the championship – the All-Ireland champions are coming to Tullamore, so I'm sure the Offaly lads will really go for it."

Owens has experience of dealing with rank outsiders as his Kilcormac-Killoughey team were available at 5/1 to beat Thurles Sarsfields in the AIB All-Ireland club semi-final last February, but defied the odds when winning by six points. They later lost the final narrowly to St Thomas' (Galway) after a combination of injury and an unlucky dismissal weakened their hand.

Kilcormac-Killoughey replaced fellow-Offaly rivals Coolderry as Leinster champions, which underlines the healthy state of club hurling in the county. However, it has not translated to the county scene, which, apart from occasional hints at a resurgence, has remained stubbornly stagnant.

"For some reason, the sum of the parts has not done as well as Offaly would have liked, but there's no doubt about the quality of hurler in the county. Kilcormac-Killoughey had some very close games in last year's county championship, but when we got out of Offaly we were well able to compete with the best from around the country.

"You don't get to an All-Ireland final if you're not. I'm sure there were several other clubs looking at us and thinking: 'If they can do it, so can we.'

"That says it all about the standard of club hurling in Offaly. It would be great if that started to show with the county team and who knows what would happen if they got a win or two behind them. In fairness, though, the Leinster draw wasn't exactly kind to us," said Owens.

While the odds are stacked against Offaly, Owens says they have got to believe in themselves and in their ability to emulate the Offaly teams of the 1980s-90s when they won as often as they lost against Kilkenny.

"Look, no team in any sport is invincible. If you go out against Kilkenny just trying to contain them, you'll get nowhere. You have to make them think a bit – take them on with a fast, direct approach. I hope Offaly go down that route on Sunday. The sort of player we have in Offaly is better suited to that than to a defensive game," said Owens.

Meanwhile, Kilcormac-Killoughey have a made a successful start to the defence of their county title, beating Birr by seven points in the opening group championship game.

Irish Independent

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