2020 will be the year that Offaly hurling competes in the third tier of National League hurling. By basis of their performance in the league this year, they are now outside the top 12 teams in Ireland.
While it is hard to argue that this hasn’t being coming down the track, it is still a bitter pill to swallow for all involved.
Offaly only escaped this fate by the skin of their teeth a few years ago when they were only saved by the rules as they had to play the Division Two winners in a play off to see if they went down or Kerry came up.
They escaped that year under Brian Whelahan but there was no escape act last Sunday as Kevin Martin watched his charges give up an 11 point lead at half time against Carlow. Offaly were also at a numerical advantage with Carlow’s Edward Byrne sent off after 10 minutes but the second half implosion that followed set Offaly for their biggest fall to date.
Offaly had hurled well in the opening half but didn’t exert enough dominance on the scoreboard when they had the chances in the first half when aided by the gale force wind.
As for the second half, it was a shambles. Offaly looked dangerously uncomfortable under the high ball, especially in the full back line while the new age tactic of working the ball out of the defence proved a step to far as they battled a hard working Carlow forward unit and the elements.
The supply of ball into the full forward line dried up too. Shane Dooley and Joe Bergin were starved in the second half with Bergin having to come out the field to try and get on ball. Dooley lived off scraps inside and almost got Offaly over the line with a goal chance saved and a shot that also hit the post.
Manager Kevin Martin described it as panic.
“We have no one else to blame only ourselves really. We were 11 points up with the spare man and we should have done a lot better in the second half.
“Again, we made some basic errors; communication wasn’t there the way it should be there and frankly, we just panicked.
“Carlow got a couple of goals from a few skirmishes in the square but they went into the net and they played the wind right but at the same time we should have been able to handle it and we didn’t.”
Now in 2020, instead of rubbing shoulders with the likes of Clare, Kilkenny and Dublin; Offaly will be applying their trade in Division 2 alongside Mayo, Wicklow, Antrim, Kerry and Meath.
That is next year however and 2019 still has quite a bit of hurling left as Offaly take part in the Joe McDonagh competition alongside Laois, Westmeath, Antrim and Kerry. The top two will play off in the final with the winner getting back into the Leinster championship for 2020 while the two finalists will enter this year’s All Ireland championship at a preliminary quarter final stage.
Offaly manager Kevin Martin believes they have the squad to win it.
“We are not going to be whinging and moaning about it. There will be no blame game. The lads have a few club championship games to play and it will probably do them no harm for a few weeks.
We still think we have the panel to win the Joe McDonagh. Next year’s league – we are not even going there now. We are focused on the championship and next year is next year.”
For a full report on the game and reaction, see inside on pages 66 and 67.