Great window of opportunity opens up as Offaly football shows signs of progress

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kevin@tullamoretribune.ie

WINS over a Division 4 side and one of Leinster's minnows certainly don't signify anything of great importance but a general feel good atmosphere about the prospects of Offaly football was evident in the county on Monday morning.

Comprehensive wins over Carlow in the Leinster U-20 Football Championship and Sligo in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship qualifiers round 2 represented a very satisfactory weekend's work for Offaly and ensures that their season drifts on towards July.

It leaves Offaly facing two big season defining games in the next week. On Monday morning, the qualifers draw was once again kind, handing Offaly a trip to Portlaoise next Saturday to face Laois (it is Offaly's first time to get three qualifiers games since 2010 when they beat London and Waterford before losing narrowly to eventual All-Ireland finalists Down) while the U-20s travel to Navan next Tuesday, July 2 for a big Leinster quarter-final shootout.

On Saturday, evidence of the progress being made at underage level showed with a very impressive 3-22 to 2-4 win over Carlow in Dr Cullen Park in the U-20s. Winning the inaugural Liam O'Connor Cup, the competition for the iconic 1982 All-Ireland winning full back who sadly passed away a few years ago, proved to be of immense benefit to Offaly and they produced a champagne first half performance.

Having conceded an early goal to Padraig Hynes, Offaly attacked the home side with great pace and intensity. Playing some excellent attacking football, Offaly led by 2-16 to 2-0 at half time and a shell shocked Carlow were a beaten docket. Offaly weren't as good in the second half but didn't need to be and were as good as they needed to be as they won pulling up.

After the game, Offaly manager Declan Kelly spoke about the tougher challenge that will face them against Meath, remarking: “In fairness to Meath, they won the last U-17 in Leinster so they are going to be a fair proposition. Again, they are sitting waiting for us and no doubt they had a good look at us today. We are probably going a little bit into the unknown having not seen much of them this year but we know they have won the last two U-17s and there is talent in Meath. Meath is on a bit of a high. They were in the Leinster final as well.”

On Sunday, Offaly completed their weekend with a very satisfactory 3-17 to 0-15 win over Sligo in the qualifiers in Tullamore. It wasn't vintage stuff the whole way and Offaly struggled a bit in the second quarter but an eleven point win can't be debated and the result and performance provided further proof of the progress that is being made under John Maughan.

Early goals from Niall McNamee and Shane Horan put Offaly in the driving seat as they led by 2-3 to 0-2 after thirteen minutes. With the wind on their backs, however, they failed to drive their advantage home and at half time, they still had plenty of work to do as they led by 2-8 to 0-9.

In the second half, Offaly went about their business in a very competent and professional manner. Niall McNamee got his second goal in the 39th minute as Offaly opened up a 3-11 to 0-9 lead. They were able to coast home from here with Sligo displaying many of the hallmarks of a beaten team.

It represented a very good day's work for Offaly who only beat Sligo by a point in their last National Football League game, holding onto their division 3 status by their finger tips as lady luck smiled kindly on them.

After the game, Offaly manager John Maughan was content but realistic as he said:

“We are a Division Three team and Offaly have been down in the lower echelons. This will bring a bit of momentum and confidence and that is what they need.

“They are good quality lads, they have bought into the ethos, their lifestyle is superb and they are training really, really well. ”

There will be huge interest in this week's games – Offaly will be slight underdogs in both but have very realistic chances of progress and they will have a huge traveling support at both venues.

See inside for reports on last week's games and previews of this week’'s ones including the U-20 hurlers big showdown with Dublin in Parnell Park tonight (Wednesday).

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