Wednesday 21 March 2018

Training in Tipp shows how far Offaly have fallen

Whelahan insists lack of facilities is holding county back as they brace themselves for Kilkenny test

Offaly manager Brian Whelahan
Offaly manager Brian Whelahan
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Imagine Brian Cody having to take Kilkenny out to Mullinahone in Tipperary to train? Or Jim Gavin's Dubs making their way to Stamullen in Meath or Leixlip in Kildare for a session?

Maybe the comparison is a little overstretched but it gives a perspective of what Brian Whelahan and his Offaly hurlers faced for a spell during the winter as they geared up for a league campaign that came close to leaving them in ruins.

The ignominy of having to pack up and cross county boundaries to train was bound to have some sort of impact on the psyche of players.

Whelahan doesn't use it as an excuse for where Offaly found themselves last month, pitched into a play-off with Kerry to maintain the respectability of Division 1B status.

But he tells it to illustrate the leap they have to make as a county if they are even to remain relevant in the hurling sphere.

Offaly, says their greatest ever hurler, have "a lot of issues."

For two weeks during their league campaign they headed six miles into north Tipperary to Ballingarry, where they had a relatively dry sod with lights. That's all they asked for.

"We just don't have the floodlit facilities to train. Offaly don't have a training ground," said Whelahan matter-of-factly.


"The resources, financial and facilities, that have been pumped into Offaly underage hurling over the last 10 years, in comparison to most counties, have been minimal. Our footballers have to train in other counties in the league, ourselves as well.

"We tried Heywood in Laois and that was booked up, the footballers went to St Loman's in Mullingar, so there was a lot of searching going on for grounds to train in at the time.

"We booked it (Ballingarry) over a two or three-week period when the weather was really bad.

"We had a number of Offaly teams using St Rynagh's facilities so it was getting cut up very, very badly. You had to make a move.

"Other than that you are having to try to get club fields, and with the weather we had, there was no club going to allow you in to cut up the field. If it wasn't for St Rynagh's we would have had nowhere to go. There are a lot of issues."

Whelahan feels that the matter should be addressed over the next 12 months and insists that it shouldn't be seen as a complaint or whinge.

"We have to deal with what we have now and the position we're in now and try to overcome that and prepare a team for Kilkenny (they play the league champions on Saturday, June 7 in the first match to be televised live by Sky) and have a real good go.

"Now what we are hoping for is that that is behind us now. We are trying to put our best foot forward and embrace that whole occasion."

Whelahan points out that Offaly haven't found themselves slipping out of mainstream hurling "by fluke" over the last few years.

"Results at underage level over the last 10 years have culminated in Offaly being in the position we are in. You have to have some success at underage level for guys to come through and to be able to compete then when you get to senior level," he said.

"They have to be competing at minor level and development squad level, and we haven't been. In fairness Joe Errity is in there with the minors and there is a lot of very good work being done, but that is going to take time."

There was encouragement to be gleaned from the league performance against Limerick that yielded a draw, but losing the first play-off to Antrim was deflating, Whelahan admitted.

"I don't know what it was, but up in Ballycastle we just fell flat on our faces and, in fairness, Antrim were worthy winners on the day. That really hit us hard and it was very hard to get lads thinking right for the Kerry game," he reflected.

"We hurled with a lot of nervousness in the opening half of that game (they eventually won by 3-19 to 0-14). It was like as if players were freezing out on the field."

Had they been relegated, would it have been possible to lift flagging spirits in time for Nowlan Park?

"I think it would have been extremely difficult – especially going down to Nowlan Park and with it being the first game on Sky as well. The occasion that that is in itself I'd say it would have been very hard."

Offaly know their limitations and Whelahan, who had originally intended to take over as minor manager, appreciates how they can't afford to be without any players – which they were for much of the league.

"It wasn't until I really got involved that I saw the issues that were to the fore and didn't realise really how long-term injuries were (affecting the team) on the back of last year," he said.

"David Kenny hasn't played one minute of league with us – he's had a knee injury and suffered a setback recently. We had a number of others who played only one league game for us.

"Offaly in their current state can't afford to be without anybody, and when you are down two, three or four players it is very hard to fill those positions."

However, Rory Hannify and Derek Morkan have recovered and are in line to face Kilkenny.

Whelahan made the decision to halt the practice of dual availability for both county teams prior to the league, ruling out the likes of Shane Dooley and Dan Currams, who football manager Emmett McDonnell suggested were upset as a result of the initial arrangement ending.

"We just found ourselves in a situation where it's very hard to do the two, and at one stage it could have been six players overlapping. It just wasn't working out," Whelahan explained. "It came to a head not long before the start of the league. We just felt at that stage we had to make a call and we did, and players came in with the hurlers."

Irish Independent

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