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Retirements and injuries give Wallace early challenges

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Retirements and injuries give Wallace early challenges thumbnailBrian Darby has retired after a decade in the Offaly jersey.

NEW Offaly senior football manager, Stephen Wallace will have no option but to develop new young talent with a number of established players departing the scene or out with long term injuries while a couple of more certain panelists have also headed off to Australia.

With star forward, Niall McNamee retiring earlier in the year, his fellow Rhode club man, Brian Darby has followed in his footsteps by hanging up his inter-county boots - an ever present in the Offaly defence for much of the last decade, Darby has made 86 league (60) and championship (26) appearances for his county between 2007 and 2017.

A very consistent defender who regularly got on the score sheet, a noteworthy feature of Darby's career has been the large volume of games he has started for Offaly (25 of his 26 championship games and 58 of his 60 league ones) while he has won nine senior football medals with Rhode.

Gracefield's Ruari Allen and Rhode's Ruari McNamee are also unavailable as they have told Wallace of their plans to spend time in Australia - Allen was outstanding in the club Senior Football Championship this year while McNamee is one of the most talented forwards in Offaly, even though he didn't find his very best form on a consistent basis this year (he did have a very good final against Clara).

Clara's Graham Guilfoyle has also opted out while three key players, Cappincur's Eoin Carroll, Bracknagh's Peter Cunningham and Rhode's Eoin Rigney are long term injury absentees and will miss much of the National Football League Division 3 campaign.

Carroll, a midfield powerhouse, got a knee operation during the summer and is not expected back until March. Cunningham, another of Offaly's best footballers who played centre half back last year but is also an excellent attacker, is out with a groin injury.

Wallace revealed last week that Cunningham won't be back until the last two league games at the earliest. While Rigney, possibly the best full back option, is recovering from a shoulder operation and will also miss league action.

Guilfoyle's decision not to commit has come as a surprise. The Clara attacker is just gone past his mid 20s and is in his football prime.

He has been more or less a regular since making his debut in 2010 and has played 67 league and championship games for Offaly.

He was inconsistent for Clara this year but was still a major factor in them reaching the Senior Football Championship final where they lost to Rhode.

Wallace spoke about Guilfoyle's decision to opt out.

"I don't like singling out any player or talking about an individual. I am not blowing him up when I say this. Offaly needs Graham Guilfoyle but Graham Guilfoyle is under pressure with work. He has started a new job. He has opted out but if he wants to pick up the phone and speak to me at any stage, he can. It comes down again, you are either in or you are not. If a guy can't commit 100% I commend him for saying, I want to but I can't be involved.

"Graham said he struggled to give the commitment to his club this year. He didn't want to come in and I am not making excuses for anyone. Graham has been a great servant for Offaly, he is still a young guy, only 26 or 27 but he will get exactly the same rules of engagement as the guy coming off the U-21 team. If you are in, you are in, if you are not, you are not. That is it in a nutshell."

Similarly, the Kerry man is leaving the door open for Niall McNamee and Brian Darby to return to the panel if they wish to change their mind but he won't be contacting them and the onus is on them to make the phone call.

After he stated that Niall McNamee still had a lot to offer county football, Wallace was asked had he rang the Rhode man or would he consider it. "I haven't made it (phone call). Niall McNamee has said he has enough and has retired. My door is always open and my phone is always on. If Niall hears good things about the way we are running, the structures that are put in place, how we are trying to change the ethos of Offaly football and he says, maybe I will stay there for one more year? Pick up the phone and give me a call. We have an open panel. I will be checking out players through college games. We will be looking at as many players as we can.

"Brian Darby has retired as well, he has given his whole life to Offaly. If Brian Darby wants to come back, he can pick up the phone as well. We have been hit by a few setbacks but it is a new regime and an opportunity for young guys.

"Sometimes it might allow them to play with reckless abandon and you don't know where that will lead you."

This year, there are drastic changes to the inter-county calendar with the O'Byrne Cup starting in December and April dedicated to club activity - the rules for April with counties having very limited access to their players is new territory for county managers and Wallace said: "It is not ideal but it is what it is. Every county is in the same boat and we will have to work around it. For me I have no major issue with clubs."

Wallace has also more or less finalised his back-room team. Kerry native and former Laois footballer, Billy Sheehan is a coach and selector and Ferbane's Paul Mollen, a member of the committee that put him forward as manager, is also in as a selector.

Cork native Kieran Collins, who is leading the Sports Science an Health degree programme at Tallaght Institute of Technology, is working with the squad in his area of expertise and they have medical back up put in place, that will be operating with the players at their training headquarters in Kilcormac's Faithful Fields.

A number of other people didn't accept invitations to become selectors, and Wallace stated that they "may or may not get another opinion in. There is no onus on us to do it. Paul is a genuine Offaly guy, myself and Billy are looking at them for the first time. We have a blank canvass. We don't care what a guy did last year or the year before. We are looking at the here and now and what they can do for us now. That mightn't be a bad thing."

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