Pressure mounts on football management as Offaly GAA endure bleak weekend

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Pressure mounts on football management as Offaly GAA endure bleak weekend thumbnailSuspended Offaly senior football manager Stephen Wallace pictured in the stand as Offaly faced Wicklow.

OFFALY GAA endured another bleak weekend with two big defeats in the Leinster Senior Hurling and Football Championships.

As expected the hurlers could not live with All-Ireland champions, Galway in Tullamore on Saturday. After battling very hard for the first half and being somewhat unlucky to go in behind by 2-9 to 1-7 at the interval, Offaly were blown out of the water in the second half as they went down by 5-18 to 2-15.

On Sunday, Offaly, however, had an even bleaker day as the footballers bowed out of the championship with a devastating 1-20 to 1-15 extra time defeat by Wicklow in Portlaoise.

While both defeats provided unsavoury food for thought for Offaly GAA supporters, it was the football defeat that was really dominating talk on Monday and pressure was growing on manager Stephen Wallace after the weekend. Wallace sat in the stand as he was banned from the sideline after being suspended for eight weeks as a result of an incident at a club game in his native Kerry and he was facing calls for his head from Offaly supporters and club activists after Sunday.

One club chairman, Raheen's John Hackett went public on Sunday evening to call on the County Board to replace Wallace, saying: "Surely all Offaly supporters want rid of Wallace and his back room team. I'm calling on the County Board to act now, he had lost the dressing room long before today's shambles, it's time to stop the rot."

Hackett's Raheen club colleague James Lalor had been named to start but only came on as a second half sub, winning a penalty that Nigel Dunne missed.

An angry tweet from former Offaly footballer, Alan McNamee drew a massive reaction, with a number of Offaly players among the many people who hit the "like" button - if there are suggestions that he has lost the dressing room and players withdraw from the panel, then the pressure will really mount on the Kerry man.

Wicklow had finished bottom of Division 4 and it was a positively shocking result for Offaly. A home quarter-final against All-Ireland champions Dublin had been the carrot for Offaly but they just did not perform on the day.

An Anton Sullivan goal had helped Offaly to a 1-5 to 0-5 interval lead but the second half was a struggle almost the whole way for them. Wicklow goalkeeper, Mark Jackson proved to be their hero, converting seven placed balls over the game, including three sensational equalisers inside the last ten minutes of normal time.

He also saved that second half penalty from Nigel Dunne - Dunne had been controversially replaced during the first half and had been back on the field just five minutes when his 57th minute penalty, awarded for a push on James Lalor, was deflected out for a "45" by Jackson.

At the end of normal time it was 1-11 to 0-14 and in extra time, Wicklow were the masters. They led by 0-19 to 1-13 at the end of the first period and a goal from Darragh Fitzgerald early in the second period gave them an unassailable lead.

Offaly went into the game without some of their best players. Eoin Carroll and Peter Cunningham were injured, John Moloney had opted out of the panel earlier in the year, Ruari Allen is in Australia while the County Board had controversially turned down a request from manager Stephen Wallace to make Cian Johnson available for this one - players can't play county U-20 championship if they play senior and Offaly had made a local rule that they must play U-20. Johnson subsequently declared that he wished to play senior and while he voiced his disappointment at the decision over the weekend, he lined out for the U-20s in a challenge win over Mayo on Saturday, scoring 2-4 from play.

The result and performance now places considerable pressure on the Offaly team management.

Former Offaly footballer Alan McNamee took to Twitter after the game to state that it was an "awful pity" to see one of the "best footballers" in the county, John Moloney watching the game from the terraces while he also made a comment about Stephen Wallace looking on from the stand, saying it was "joke material". Challenged by one user over why Moloney was not on the panel, McNamee replied that the Tullamore man was a: "top class footballer who wanted to play for his county from any report I've heard. Seems like there was plenty of unrest in there regardless of my opinion".

On Tuesday, McNamee's original tweet had received over 170 likes and 24 retweets - and while anyone who uses twitter knows that a "like" or retweet does not necessarily represent an endorsement and it is all too easy to hit a button on social media, the list of names who liked it is interesting as it includes plenty of former and current players, including a few members of Wallace's panel - among the current Offaly players who "liked it" were Peter Cunningham, Bernard Allen, Shane Tierney, Jordan Hayes and Joe O'Connor, while the list also included some influential club activists.

Again, no one should read much into internet traffic over a tweet but it could suggest that the Offaly camp is not a happy one and the rumour mill about incidents in Portlaoise on Sunday has been in over drive this week - it will be interesting to see how it all pans out. At the very least, it does represent the very serious dissatisfaction on the ground at all levels in Offaly at Sunday's defeat.

While the gap in the hurling game was considerably bigger and Offaly had goalkeeper Eoghan Cahill to thank for being even that close, there was nothing like the same post mortem going on after it.

Instead, there was a general acknowledgement that Offaly had improved from last year when they were annihilated by 0-33 to 1-11 in Portlaoise. While the 5-18 Galway scored represented the same cumulative tally, Offaly were seven points closer and had at least been competitive for the first half and into the second half.

Offaly did especially well in the first half, surprising Galway with their physicality and rattling into them. However, a great Joseph Cooney goal just before the break handed Galway an initiative that they never relinquished.

In the second half, Offaly were never really at the races. From the moment, Brian Concannon got his second goal in the 43rd minute to put them 3-11 to 1-8 ahead, the only issue was Galway's winning margin.

And while Offaly did quite well on the day, Eoghan Cahill saved them from a really horrendous beating. The Birr net minder made a handful of superb saves and a couple of his second half ones were right out of the top drawer. Galway certainly could have scored eight goals and had they got nine or ten, Offaly would not have been able to complain too much.

The hurlers face into another big game this Sunday as they travel to Nowlan Park to play Kilkenny. Kilkenny had a narrow escape against Dublin on Sunday and it will be interesting to see how Offaly compete against them - they will follow that with a home game against Wexford and a crucial trip to Dublin and with relegation in the Leinster championship this year, the stakes are massive.

For the footballers, it is a matter of sitting and waiting for the qualifiers draw which takes place on May 28 - the first round takes place on June 9.

See pages 61, 62, 63, 64, 65 and 68 for reports and comment on all the big weekend action.




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