HAVING spent quite a while speaking with his players and then completing his interview with RTE, Offaly boss Ollie Baker remained defiant that his charges could bounce back following Sunday’s harrowing 14-point loss at the hands of Galway.
“I’ve no doubt that they players will react positively. There is too much hard work gone into this just to throw it away now. I’ve no doubt about the character of those players. They have great resilience and they gave it 100%. There is nobody hurting as much as those thirty players and they know themselves that they let themselves down number one and also that they let down every supporter as well by not having a good performance but it wasn’t intentional and it is up to us to bounce back.”
It was Offaly’s biggest loss in championship hurling since the 0-12 to 2-24 loss at the hands of Kilkenny at the same venue back in 2008. While the concession of five goals is the most they’ve conceded since 2005 when they lost also to the ‘Cats’ by 0-15 to 6-28.
Galway’s attack was afforded too much space. Offaly neither ‘marked space’ when the likes of David Burke and Damien Hayes went roaming nor did they pack the defence. They went ‘man for man’. It backfired badly and Baker, an All-Ireland SHC medal winner with Clare in 1995 and ’97 agreed.
“They (Galway) don’t play an orthodox fifteen. The system they play is all geared towards making space and the judgement call you have to make is either you follow the man or you mark your space and if you mark your space it is a hiding to nothing. If you follow the man and you are not first out and you are not attacking the ball as a back it is a hiding to nothing.
“So that’s what we have to go back and analyse. It is a bit raw at the moment. Look it, they (Galway) are a quality outfit. There are a number of ways you can cancel out that kind of play and we didn’t do it unfortunately.”
When asked if we are likely to see an alternative defensive set-up for the All-Ireland qualifiers, he replied, “We’ll assess the video and we’ll have to have a good long hard honest look at every aspect of the game. Look it, things didn’t go well. That didn’t happen by design. They gave it their best effort and they should be commended. They didn’t walk away. They had some good periods in the game as well.
“Even in the depths of despair we are feeling at the moment there are some positives. We did hurl with some quality in the first half to bring ourselves back into the game in a big way. But we just weren’t able to hold on then coming up before half time. I think if we had we would have given ourselves a chance going into the second half but really it was an uphill battle the whole way after.”
Even when faced with a ten-point deficit, 1-10 to 4-11, at half time and resuming the second half with just four players in the positions they began the match, Baker said he wasn’t contemplating defeat.
“No more than anything else when you are inside in dressing rooms like that you have the work done and you look forward to challenges and you never for a second contemplate defeat. So inside in the dressing room we just didn’t decide to come out to hurl with pride alone, we came out and we were trying to win that game. It didn’t happen. Galway got the start again in the second half and put us under pressure again. It just didn’t work out.
“There is serious pride in these lads. There is serious hurling quality and that was evident there in the first half so we can’t be completely focusing on the negatives. I know that is where the sound bites are going to be but there are a lot of positives we can take and we’ve to look forward as well. That’s the level we have that reach. Is that attainable? I certainly think it is.”
Rory Hanniffy and Shane Dooley were arguably Offaly’s most consistent and classiest performers over the seventy minutes and while there were glimpses of brilliance from other players at different stages, consistency deserted them and this has been a serious problem for this team particularly when faced with breaking down the top sides.
Considering that Baker took no prisoners and was one of the revered mid-fielders of the late 90’s, it is somewhat ironic that mid-field is an area where Offaly struggled badly during the NHL earlier this year and again in two championship confrontations. And then in stark contrast to Galway’s space creation, Offaly seemed to congest their attack and this militated against creating scoring opportunities.
Asked what he took as the positives from the match, Baker responded, “The performance of Shane Dooley number one. Del Morkan and James Rigney were terrific. Colin Egan for the second game in-a-row was absolutely fabulous. Subs Sean Ryan and Derek Molloy made an impact. Conor Hernon, a young lad coming on to the team and Chris McDonald came on and steadied up the ship. James Dempsey made a lot of very good saves. The hooking, the blocking, the tackling that our lads did throughout the whole game, they are tremendous positives.
“We’ve to work on them and these lads need to get match cute and this is what happens in a game. There are peaks and valleys in every game. When you are up it is very easy. But when you are down you’ve to learn how to get back up there again. There is a lot to learn. Even though they’ve been on the go for quite a while, they are a young team and they are still learning. And we have to bridge that gap with what the Galways, Kilkennys and Tipperarys of the world are doing and the only way we’re going to do that is by learning from painful experiences like today.” There is a round of the local senior hurling championship this week and Baker believes that is a good thing.
“I think it is important that the lads go back now and get back hurling as quick as they can. They go back with their clubs this week. The lads should realise now that a good performance in club matches is going to put them-selves in the frame to represent their county in three weeks’ time (in the qualifiers) and that is what we’ll be looking for.
“We have to have a good cold long hard look at what happened out there and if we are to make any improvements we have to be constructive in our criticism and not just say to give up hope on some people. This is what we have. This is the panel we have and this is what we have to work with and we are going to do our best.”