THE Offaly U-21 footballers hope to continue their run of victories this Wednesday night as they look to secure a place in this year’s Leinster Final.
Navan is the venue for the game as Pascal Kellaghan’s side take on Louth in the provincial semi-final with a throw in of 7.30pm.
This will be the first game Offaly play outside of Gracefield where they have recorded wins over Meath and Kildare in impressive fashion which will give the side confidence going into this pivotal clash.
Offaly will be strengthened by the return of Paul McPadden after suspension. Graham Guilfoyle, David Hanlon and Mark Young all picked up injuries in the game with Kildare. Hanlon is expected to miss the game while there is a doubt over Mark Young. Another injury concern is Tullamore’s Michael Brazil but the midfielder is expected to start the game. The injury to Hanlon puts St Brigid’s Cian Donohue in line to start after his recovery from injury
Offaly last reached the Leinster U-21 Final in 2007 when they lost out to Laois in the final but before this year they hadn’t managed a win at the grade since.
The squad will come into the game well prepared as the players involved with the Senior panel were not included for Sunday’s win over Cavan.
That has given Pascal Kellaghan and his management team the chance to focus fully on the Louth game and not having to worry about players who may pick up injuries in Breffni Park.
Offaly wins to date have been built on a foundation of defensive strength, great organisation and a collective fighting spirit but that will be tested against a Louth team who showed no lack of desire or commitment in their two wins.
In those games Louth have scored nine goals in two games, albeit six of them came against Kilkenny in the first round.
That game aside, they recorded an impressive 3-6 to 1-10 win over Louth in the quarter-final which got them through to the last four.
What made that win more impressive was that Louth played the entire second-half with 14 men and still managed to outscore a fancied Longford team by 2-4 to 0-2 in the third quarter of the game.
Full-forward and target man William Woods netted two of the goals and his battle with Offaly’s impressive full-back Eoin Rigney will be one of the key showdowns of the game.
At one point Louth lead by ten points in the game but Longford came back strongly and Louth had to draw on all their defensive strength to hold on for the win.
Speaking after that game to the Dundalk Democrat, Louth manager Colin Kelly left no one in any doubt as to what his goal was for his side.
“If we fall at Offaly, we’ve failed. It’s about winning a Leinster. Are there anymore talented players around than these lads? It’s about a belief and an application and we’re starting to get that bit of belief. It’ll not be about underachieving.”
Senior panelist Eoin O’Connor was the man sent off in that game but it was for two yellow cards which means he will be available for the game.
Another senior player likely to play a major role is Cathal Bellew who is likely to line out at centre-forward for the game where he will likely be picked up by Clara’s John Ledwith.
Defensively Offaly have been very disciplined and have worked very effectively as a unit. The key to their success has been their ability to turn over possession and quickly transition defence into attack with the players who dropped back to defend getting up the field quickly.
The midfield partnership of Michael Brazil and Derek Kelly have more than held their own while up front Offaly have talent in abundance with Anton Sullivan, Graham Guilfoyle and Bernard Allen all capable of turning a game.
Offaly also have strength in depth as was evidenced against Kildare with players of the calibre of Stuart Cullen, Cian Donohoe and Aaron McDonagh all being introduced.
There is no doubt that this well be a tough assignment for Offaly as they look to return to a provincial final.
There will be considerable familiarity between the sides as three years ago in the Leinster Minor Football Championship, Offaly prevailed by 1-15 to 0-16 in a very entertaining game.
This Wednesday’s game should be equally as close under lights in Navan with Offaly the bookmakers favourites to advance.
If they play to their best for an hour, this Offaly team will be hard to stop but they must take their chances when they come their way to avoid another nerve jangling last few minutes as was the case against Kildare.
For many years the county’s U-21s have struggled to fulfill their immense potential. A win on Wednesday would bring this year’s crop within one game of fulfilling theirs.