All clear for Cunningham as Offaly footballers aim to progress

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kevin@tullamoretribune.ie

OFFALY will have a golden chance of progress when they welcome London to Bord na Mona O'Connor Park, Tullamore on Saturday for the first round of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship qualifiers – and their chances have received a further boost with the news that star utility player Peter Cunningham has got the all clear after hurting his shoulder in the Leinster championship defeat by Meath

While Offaly can take absolutely nothing for granted and London have earned respect in recent years, it was still a very good draw for them and it will be a big shock if the home side don't advance into the draw for the next round.

Offaly will want to be careful. London are not the pushovers they once were, they have beaten teams in Division 4 of the National Football League and have created problems for some of Connaught's big guns in the championship in Ruislip over the years. Some day they will take a significant scalp in the qualifiers but Offaly will be doing everything in their power to avoid that fate on Saturday.

Apart from the inevitable fallout and trauma from losing to London, Offaly have many more positive reasons for giving the qualifiers a real lash. They performed very well in the defeat by Meath, pushed the favourites to the pin of their collar and were very close to a famous win. Indeed, they should have won on the day but it was still a fine performance and Offaly were pleased with their overall display.

Meath went onto hammer Carlow in the last round and Offaly very much missed an opportunity. There is, however, a chance of redemption for Offaly in the qualifiers and they will be very eager to grasp this. In the past, Offaly have shown little appetite for the second chance saloon and over the years, they have endured some fairly serious beatings, given some horrific performances.

Their motivation, however, should be at a different level this year. With former Mayo manager, John Maughan at the helm, Offaly have progressed this year and it looks to be a very happy camp with a very positive mood emerging from it. You could not say with any great degree of confidence that a corner has been turned and time will adjudicate on that but at the same time, the signs are encouraging.

In the National Football League, Offaly had to win on the last day to retain their Division 3 status but it could have been a whole lot better than that as they lost games against Westmeath and Louth that they were in control of early in the second half. It would not have taken a lot for Offaly to push for promotion and they were way more competitive than the final table suggested.

That gave them something tangible to build on in April and the good work they did was reflected with a better than anticipated performance against Meath. Offaly still have it all to prove. Meath may have been off the boil that day and again, time will tell us more about that. It was a good, competitive performance by Offaly but they didn't get the result and that is the bottom line.

With hopes high that John Maughan will commit for a second year, Offaly could do with getting a few games in the qualifiers to lay a solid foundation for next year. With London at home, two is the minimum that will be desired; three would be ideal and after that Offaly are in bonus territory.

With the mood growing for a second tier championship, Offaly will be trying to move as far up the ladder as they can. They are a long way from a top tier team but getting up to Division 2 and competing regularly with the likes of Kildare, Meath etc is the target for them.

Offaly have continued to work hard since the championship defeat and will be hoping to field a full strength side on Saturday. John Maughgan confirmed on Monday that Cunningham is available for selection and it means that most players are fully fit.

The team won't be announced until later in the week but it will be very close to the one that started against Meath and that should be strong enough to surmount the first hurdle.

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