ANOTHER loss and another step backwards with the third tier of hurling waiting at the trap door. Offaly are now without a Senior Hurling Championship win since beating Westmeath in May 2017 as Antrim came to Tullamore on Saturday and left with the spoils.
As it stands, Offaly’s hopes of resurrecting their season and qualifying for the final of the Joe McDonagh cup are well and truly over with relegation to the third tier, the Christy Ring cup now looking increasingly likely.
The final game is against Kerry in Tralee on Saturday week and failure to win there and Offaly are gone. Even before that game comes around, Kerry take on Laois in Tralee next weekend and if the Kingdom were to get a win or a draw in Portlaoise – then Offaly would be relegated before they even set out for Tralee the following Saturday.
Westmeath are also still in the relegation mix but their head to head over Offaly may well come into play if they were to lose to both Antrim and Laois in their remaining games. A scenario could happen where three teams are on two points and in that case the team with the worst score difference would be relegated. A two way tie would be decided on head to head and Offaly’s best case scenario at this stage is that the game in Tralee turns into a winner claims survival clash where at least they would have their fate in their own hands.
These are dark times but interim manager Joachim Kelly is now switching his attention to Kerry and hoping Laois can get the better of the Munster men next week.
“It’s a work in progress. We have another two weeks to prepare now for Kerry, which is going to be another dogfight in Tralee and our aim is to avoid going down to the Christy Ring.
“If we don’t win against Kerry we’re gone to the Christy Ring and we’re hoping that Laois can win that game next weekend. There’s no team in the Joe McDonagh Cup in the final yet, there’s no team relegated yet so it’s all to play for. It’s going to be a dog-fight for everyone.”
Kelly thought the Offaly performance was decent at times but had no qualms with the defeat to the slicker and fitter Antrim men on Saturday.
“I’m gutted. I’m an Offaly man. I came in there two weeks ago for a month to try to turn this around. We came today to get the result and we didn’t get it.
“There were good performances out there from lads; we gave the crowd a bit of a lift when we came back from eight points down with six minutes to go to get it to a puck-of-the-ball game. We got our chances to win the game, they got their chances and they won it – the best team won on the day, no doubt about that.”
Offaly will be without Colin Egan and Conor Mahon for that trip to Tralee with Egan forced off in the first half with what looked to be a serious ankle injury while Conor Mahon was dismissed to a straight red card 17 minutes from time.
“That’s hurling and Antrim lost a man too in the first half. We had injuries, but that’s hurling for you. It was a high-scoring game, we came from eight points down and we could nearly have snatched it in the end. That’s hurling for you; it’s an amazing game, an intriguing game.
“I’m bitterly disappointed because I thought we’d dig out a win, I thought we’d rise it and get the result. That didn’t happen so we plan for the next day.
They now have a big job on their hands to regroup and lift the spirits in the camp as the nightmare year continues but as big job as it is, Kelly and his management team are up for the challenge.
“This team are down because they’re after losing so many games and it was hard to rise them. They were nervous out there - they were afraid making mistakes in the first half. We’ll try and resurrect it for the next day.
“Antrim were flying all over the field. We’re training since last October, but our fitness level is not where it should be and you can’t turn that around in a fortnight. Antrim were flying around, reading the breaks, coming on to the breaks and we weren’t driving out of defence with it.”
He wasn’t expecting to be in this position a few weeks ago but he is happy to be in the job and willing to help out the County in any way he can.
“I wasn’t expecting the call at all; it was last Monday week when the lads turned up at my back door. I got two hours to think about it and that was it, but I had my mind made up when I saw them coming.
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