Offaly's Joe McDonagh Cup destiny in their own hands as Kelly drafts in new players

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kevin@tullamoretribune.ie

As Offaly begin their quest to rescue their season under interim manager Joachim Kelly and his new backroom team, they have the knowledge that they have their destiny in their own hands, beginning with a round 3 Joe McDonagh Cup tie against Antrim at Bord na Mona O'Connor Park on Saturday next with a 3pm throw in.

Victory over Antrim next Saturday and Kerry on June 15 in Tralee and Offaly will avoid the real disaster of relegation to the Christy Ring Cup next season.

And this week Joachim Kelly reitierated that that is what Offaly are concentrating on this week. He said they are fighting to retain their place in the Joe McDonagh Cup and that is their main focus. While they might still retain an outside chance of making the Joe McDonagh Cup final if results go their way, the Lusmagh man said they aren't looking at that prospect for now and are working on ensuring that Offaly win their two remaining group games and remaining in the Joe McDonagh Cup for 2020.

In the aftermath of Offaly’s heavy defeat to Westmeath in their last outing, Kevin Martin was relieved of his managerial duties and former Offaly great Joachim Kelly was installed on an interim basis. He is joined by other former Offaly hurlers in his backroom team, Brian Carroll as coach, along with selectors Paddy Kirwan and Ger Oakley. All have given huge time to hurling in the county over many years and they will be well aware of the talent that is available in the county as they attempt to restore pride in Offaly hurling again. Martin Bennett will look after strength and conditioning.

Their initial aim will be to harness the talent that is at their disposal and get a positive feel back into the camp. They have brought in a number of new faces to the panel, Shinrone twins Sean and Michael Cleary, Peter Geraghty from Kilcormac/Killoughey and Drumcullen's Dermot Gath.

Joachim said they had three sessions with the players between Tuesday and Sunday last and said he was pleased with the response they had got thus far. "We are trying to get a bit of spirit back into them, it was very low. We hope to instil a bit of belief back into them," he said.

He agreed that confidence had taken a hit. "Confidence is everything and we are trying to work on that and also trying to get more intensity into their hurling and put pride back in the Offaly jersey, which is what our supporters want to see."

He said Offaly may have gradually gone downhill since last reaching the All-Ireland final in 2000 but he said there are still good hurlers in Offaly. "We have to work with what we have and improve," he added.

He said their simple aim was to go out and beat Antrim and Kerry and that would maintain their status, whatever happens elsewhere, and that is what they have to focus on.

On Saturday they welcome an Antrim side to Tullamore that has won one and lost one of its opening two games. They made an impressive start when beating Kerry at home by 3-19 to 0-14 and the following weekend travelled to O'Moore Park but were beaten by Laois by 2-24 to 1-19.

Offaly began their campaign at home to Laois but in a high scoring encounter they were narrowly pipped in the closing stages by 4-22 to 3-21. They then travelled to Cusack Park in Mullingar but didn't perform as well and went down to a 3-18 to 0-14 defeat at the hands of Westmeath.

That was the result that cost Kevin Martin his job as manager and now Offaly will look to pick up the pieces again beginning with the visit of the men from the Glens on Saturday. A change of manager can often lift a side, particularly after a string of disappointing results. It can seem that a weight has been lifted off a side and a new voice in a dressing room can bring a change of outlook and supporters will be hoping that Joachim Kelly can bring that to this Offaly side.

No one can doubt the enthusiasm and energy that the Lusmagh man has for the game. It was evident throughout his playing career and he has brought it to his managerial career as well, enjoying great success with the Offaly camogie team, while last year he took over in Coolderry and when many were writing them off, he guided them to an unbeaten run that garnered another Offaly senior hurling title and they went within a hair's breadth of reaching the Leinster Club final before losing out after extra time to Ballyboden.

If he can get the response out of the Offaly players that he got in Coolderry, fans of the Faithful County won't be complaining. But it is a big task, particularly, as he said himself, they haven't had huge time to work with the players.

Antrim will provide a stern test for Offaly. With a victory already under their belts, they know another victory would give them a great chance to making the final. In their victory over Kerry, they came strong in the second half to seal a big win. Neil McManus has been their leading light for a number of years now, but they also have plenty of other players who will be a threat, including John Dillon, Conor Boyd, Nicky McKeague, James McNaughton, Ryan McCambridge and Ciaran Clarke.

For Offaly the time to restart and reboot is now. They have players more than capable of stepping up to the task and answering Offaly's call this weekend, such as Ben Conneely, Pat Camon, Joe Bergin, Oisin Kelly, Conor Mahon, Colin Egan and Kevin Connolly among others. If Offaly play to their potential, they certainly have the ability to stop the rot.

Offaly hurling has suffered a lot over recent years and has become the butt of jokes for many but the players put in the same effort as other counties and maybe now is the time they reaped the reward for that effort and helped restore pride in the county jersey. They have their destiny in their own grasp and if they win their two remaining games who knows where it might take them.

Offaly have to look after their own business first and concentrate on winning their own games, and let fate take care of the rest. With two games left for everyone there is still a lot to be played for in this group and all five teams are still very much involved in the outcome of the group. The new era starts now for Offaly and a win over Antrim on Saturday would be a very good place to start.

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