THE curtain was wound down on an Offaly GAA inter-county season that occasionally promised much but ultimately flattered to deceive with two disappointing U-20 defeats last week.
With the senior hurlers relegated to the Christy Ring Cup and the senior footballers evicted from the qualifiers by Laois, all of Offaly's eggs were left in an U-20 basket but they bit the dust in their big games last weekend, despite giving very brave and battling performances.
The performances of both teams have given optimism for the future but ultimately, neither could reach a provincial final and once again Offaly's season was over by the first week in July.
Particular hope surrounded the prospects of the U-20 footballers but they suffered a 1-12 to 0-12 defeat by Meath in Navan last Tuesday week. It was a strange sort of game and performance by Offaly. They didn't play to full potential, were somewhat below par on the day but were still good enough to have won and it wouldn't have taken a lot more for them to have got the result.
At the same time, Offaly couldn't have any real complaints at losing. They conceded a goal inside the first minute to Cian McBride, followed quickly by a point and that stacked the odds against them. They recovered well to trail by a point, 0-7 to 1-5 at half time and got on level terms early in the second half. They then conceded four points on the trot but again rallied and missed a great goal chance when the tightly marked Cian Johnson punched wide from five yards.
From there on, Meath looked like they would have enough and they duly held on, even though they couldn't relax until the final whistle.
On Wednesday night, the U-20 hurlers showed tremendous character as they pushed Wexford right to the wire. In a traumatic year for Offaly hurling, this team had given the county a badly needed boost with a sensational win over Dublin in Parnell Park the previous week. They followed this up with another fiercely determined, competitive performance in the semi-final in Tullamore's Bord na Mona O'Connor Park but ultimately it proved to be a bridge too far as they succumbed to a 2-20 to 1-18 defeat.
Offaly were not far away here and trailed by just a point deep in injury time before a late Diarmuid Doyle goal gave Wexford breathing space. The door was open for Offaly to snatch it and it is a tribute to them that they had this chance in injury time but Wexford deserved their win and the home side would really have won it against the head had they sneaked it at the end.
With former Taoiseach Brian Cowen among the enthusiastic 5,170 attendance, before he took gravely ill the following evening – a passionate GAA supporter, he was also in Navan the previous night at the U-20 football game -, Offaly struggled to hang in there at times.
Wexford led by 1-8 to 0-7 at half time and pulled seven clear during the second half before Offaly rallied. A fortuitious goal from John Murphy brought Offaly back into it and they had an opportunity but ultimately, no one could dispute the merit of Wexford's win – the Wexford captain and number 8 was Charlie McGuckin, a son of Shane McGuckin (St Rynagh's), a hero at corner back on the Offaly team that won the 1994 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship.
The defeats means that attention will turn to club activity and the appointment of county team managements for the remainder of the summer. The Intermediate Football Championship started last weekend while the Senior and Senior B Hurling Championships will resume this weekend and their football equivalents start the following weekend.
The County Board were scheduled to meet last night (Tuesday) and the process for appointing county managements was likely to be started at this. John Maughan is expected to retain the senior football job for another year and if there is a change, it will be the Mayo man's decision to leave while much interest will focus on senior hurling where Kevin Martin was sacked during the Joe McDonagh Cup and replaced by Lusmagh folk hero, Joachim Kelly, who was unable to prevent relegation.
U-20 managers, Declan Kelly (football, Kilclonfert) and hurling, Gary Cahill (Birr) and Shane Hand (Kilcormac/Killoughey) are likely to be given the option of another year at the helm.