Monday, May 27, 2024

The Man Behind The Wire – Culture change needed for Offaly football

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WE will steer clear of using emotive language or making all embracing, unverifiable comments about Offaly footballers in the wake of Saturday’s traumatic 2-20 to 0-12 Tailteann Cup defeat by London in Tullamore.

It was as bad a defeat as I have witnessed in my time covering games – going back to the late 1980s. There have been plenty of bad days in those decades, days when Offaly footballers did not perform and were very badly beaten.

Saturday’s reverse was as bad as any of them and the fact that it was London probably makes it worse. London deserve respect and are not the whipping boys that they once were but losing to them in such a manner touches an understandable nerve with people.

It was just nice to see and everyone involves has a case to answer, players, team management and to a much lesser extent, County Board officials. It is, however, just a case to answer and it is not a shooting offence, no one deserves some of the comments that have been posted on social media, some people have very short memories: while anyone putting himself out there to manage or play for a county team has to develop a thick skin very quickly, people are very quick to forget the humanity of what they are trying to do and the fact that they all have families and loved ones who see these wild statements and are affected by them.

That, however, can’t be controlled and is the world we live in. Social media means that people can get an audience now that a few years ago was confined to those within hearing distance on high stools, outside Church gates or wherever.
Plenty has been said about the game and performance and the result sums it up really. A fourteen point beating by London is not acceptable.

Offaly’s display, however, has not come as a bolt from the blue. This type of thing has been going on since the qualifiers were introduced in 2001. Almost from the start, Offaly showed a disdain for second chance saloons or subsidiary competitions. They have had the odd good win here and there but the overwhelming theme has been one of going belly up, substandard performances and days where Offaly just did not seem that bothered.It continued with the failed Tommy Murphy Cup and now with the much more successful Tailteann Cup.

Whether spoken or unspoken, the attitude of Offaly footballers seems to be that they can’t get over a defeat in the Leinster championship and it is only a matter of time when the wheels come off. The results don’t lie. Saturday’s performance was not a once off, it is a symptom of what has been going on for a long time now, what their predecessors have been doing as a matter of course.

It is a fairly shocking culture and one that needs to change. There is a certain arrogance involved in not treating these competitions with the same seriousness as championship or league and until that attitude is arrested, Offaly football won’t progress.

Other counties are well able to regather and launch an assault on the Tailteann Cup. They embrace the opportunity to get something tangible from their season but not Offaly – they did reach the semi-final a couple of years ago but were destroyed by Westmeath in Croke Park.

Offaly’s mindset on this has to change. Offaly are clearly a second tier, Tailteann Cup team on merit. With Dublin so far out in front, they can’t win the Leinster championship and as a Division 3 team, of long standing, they can’t get into the All-Ireland round robin system.

The Tailteann Cup is where it is at for Offaly and if things were right, this would be treated as their main goal for the year. The league is the league and will be treated with its usual importance but the Tailteann Cup should be at the forefront of their thoughts from the minute they walk onto the training ground for their first session.

Use the Leinster championship as preparation for this. Go all out to win every game but be fully ready for the Tailteann Cup.
This didn’t happen on Saturday and the outcome was a result that will be hard to get over. That can’t be changed now and they can only move forward as a group, try and prove a point.

Offaly senior hurlers are in a second tier competition in the Joe McDonagh Cup but they are treating that with the absolute and total respect that is required. It is slightly different in that they don’t have a Leinster championship first but it is absolutely inconceivable that they would not empty the tank in every game and go flat out to win it.

The Tailteann Cup is the same as the Joe McDonagh Cup for the Offaly senior footballers but they haven’t realised it yet or treated it this way. They haven’t replicated the honesty shown by the hurlers in the Joe McDonagh Cup. It’s a competition they could win and it would bring them on. It’s a realistic goal for them, the Leinster or All-Ireland isn’t and changing an attitude that has been so prevalent for so long, has become so entrenched, is no easy thing but Saturday proves how critical this change is.

It is only sport, it isn’t life or death but when you put your hand up to join a county panel, you have a duty that transcends this. The players and management should be forgiven for what happened on Saturday but they have to earn that forgiveness by showing they want this and performing accordingly.

It may be too late for them to survive in the Tailteann Cup and whatever about beating Limerick on Saturday, you certainly couldn’t suggest at the moment that they will take Down in their final game. In a way that doesn’t matter now, people just want to see Offaly perform and give it their best.

We will have an idea in the warm up on Saturday in Limerick where Offaly are and we will certainly know within ten minutes of the start.

The one question they should ask themselves is what would their motivation levels, application and performance have been like if they were playing London in a Division 3 or 4 game. The answer to that seems fairly obvious and they owe supporters a performance, but more importantly, they owe themselves one.

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