OPINION: For Offaly hurling it's time to draw a line in the sand and start to look to the future

Damian Moran

Reporter:

Damian Moran

Email:

damian@offalyexpress.ie

Offaly Hurling

Offaly's 2017 inter-county hurling season has come to an end an it finished with another mauling, this time at the hands of Waterford. 

It has been a miserable year with the highlights being a two point win over Kerry in the league that kept us up and two late goals from Shane Dooley that edged us past Westmeath in the Leinster Championship. That's it.

The year can be best summed as follows. We started the league with a 26 point defeat to Galway and we finished the year with a 24 point loss to Waterford.

So let the blame game begin.

Many will blame the County Board.

More will blame the management.

Some will blame the players and others who, for whatever reason, were not available. (Personally I would never blame players because I wouldn't give that level of commitment and put my life on hold)

Some will still believe that if the games were played in St Brendan's Park, the results would have been different.

Whoever or whatever you blame, get it all out of your system now before you read on because a line in the sand needs to be drawn. Everything in the past needs to be left in the past. 

What needs to happen now is for the entire Offaly hurling community needs to come together before the gap to the top teams in the country becomes too wide to bridge.

Rather than looking to attribute blame, we need to be looking realistically at the problems in the county and coming up with solutions that, in the long term, will get us back to where we were in the 80s and 90s.

And I don't mean coming up with another master plan that ends up gathering dust on a shelf. I mean solutions that are practical, feasible and can actually be implemented.

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The first thing we need to do is to look at Offaly hurling as if it were running a business.

If we do that, we can look at the perilous situation in a dispassionate way, taking out all the raw emotions and simply looking at the bottom line

When we do that, it's fair to say the annual accounts make some for dismal reading.

The stock is at its lowest point for 40 years with investors selling and very few buying back in.

Consumer sentiment is lower.

Brand awareness is through the floor.

The product we are producing is substandard and customers no longer want to buy what our company is selling.

Most sensible business people at this stage would tell you to liquidate and have done with it. That is not an option.

So what do we, the shareholders, do? How do we improve the product, build a better brand awareness and harness the goodwill that is out there to hurling in the county?

There is one solution that could address many of the issues however it needs a long term approach to rebuilding and investment, not just a quick fix that will placate investors in the short term without putting a long term structure in place.

The key is targeting young hurlers in the county as our next generation of players but also as our consumers in the future.

An ambitious programme needs to be put in place to get them to buy into the county as a brand and restore that hurling identity that has been lost since Offaly last won and All Ireland 19 years ago.

And here's how I see it being done.

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As a hurling county, we have at best stood still, if not gone backwards, for the last 20 years. We have been waiting for the next All Ireland winning team to magically appear in front of our eyes. I think it's safe to say at this stage that that is simply not going to happen.

I am lucky enough to be from a generation that was spoiled with success from 1981 to 1998. We didn't wonder IF Offaly would win another Leinster or All Ireland title, we wondered WHEN it would happen as it surely would given the talent at the county's disposal.

In a 17 year span, we won All Stars in every position and several at some. We had the only then current player on the Team of the Millenium. I'll say it again, we were spoiled.

But young players today have no such tradition to call. They don't know what it's like to travel to games against Galway and Tipperary and Waterford with expectation rather than resignation.

So it's up to us to foster that sense of Offaly's hurling identity.

It's up to us to create a generation that have a fierce determination to return Offaly back to the top table.

It's up to us to take a creative and different approach to rebuilding Offaly hurling.

And one way of doing that is by setting up Offaly Óg.

Here's how it would work.

While development squads serve an important function, we need to cast the net wider to get more young players involved with, and invested in, Offaly hurling.

Starting with Under 10s (although it could easily be widened depending on resources and manpower), we set up a four week programme that brings all the kids from this age group that want to take part together in our excellent new Faithful Fields facility in Kilcormac.

And what do we do once we get them there?

Firstly we give them all a specially designed Offaly jersey with their name an Offaly Óg emblazoned across it. This will give them a sense of a county identity and the majority of them will wear it with pride. It would also be a great opportunity for a sponsor to come on board.

The second thing we give them is their own special pass with their picture on it that gets them in free to all inter-couty hurling games held in Offaly. Think of it as membership to an exclusive club.

After that we turn to the hurling side. We set up however many stations we can where former players, coaches and willing volunteers teach them the skills of hurling.

What would be better than Damien Martin, Jim Troy and Stephen Byrne taking young goalkeepers and imparting the knowledge they have learned over their careers?

What would be better than Brian Whelehan, Kevin Kinahan, Martin Hanamy, Pat Fleury, Kevin Martin and others teaching defenders the actual art of defending?

What would be better than Joachim Kelly and Johnny Pilkington doing likewise for budding young midfielders?

What would be better than Johnny, Joe & Billy Dooley, Michael Duignan, and Padraig Horan and others passing on their years of experience to a future generation of forwards?

And we would also teach them the basic skills and set them targets to achieve by the end of the camp.

Those targets could include striking the ball a certain distance off both sides. A test of first touch. A test of hooking. A test of blocking. A test of rising the ball on the run. Basically a test of the fundamentals skills which are the building blocks to being a good hurler.

The final day would be a skills test or maybe just a graduation where they get their certificates saying they have completed the Offaly Óg programme.

Obviously not all of the players will go on to represent Offaly through Development Squads or at other grades but they will hopefully want to support the county and will bring those skills back to their clubs where hopefully they will utilise them for many years to come.

All that needs for this to happen is for the stakeholders in Offaly hurling to come together and work together. All it needs is the will. All it needs is the commitment. We can all lay the blame but can we take the responsibility to try and fix the problems?

This is very much a long term approach, and I'm not saying it's the right one, but we have to have a long term plan. There has to be a vision for the future.

Simply put, we have to start working on the grass roots now as if we keep going down the road we are going, there won't be a long term for Offaly hurling.