Stephen Wallace gives his reaction to Offaly's 2018 football Championship draw
The newly appointed Offaly football boss, Stephen Wallace, has spoken to the Offaly Express in the wake of Thursday's draw for the 2018 Leinster Football Championship.
Offaly were drawn to face Wicklow in the first round, with home advantage not yet decided, while the winners of that game will face Dublin. That game against the reigning All-Ireland champions would take place in Tullamore were Offaly to overcome the garden county.
Wallace told us that he is "not looking ahead to the Dubs," insisting that, "Wicklow will be no pushovers" in that opening fixture. "If there's anything I've learned about John Evans over the years, it's that he gets massive buy-in from his players. They'll be tough to beat," the Kerry man added.
Indeed, Wallace does come up against one of his old "buddies" in the shape of new Wicklow boss Evans, a man who coached in Kerry for many years. "It will be nice to pit my wits against him as he has a strong track record wherever he's gone, including the likes of Tipperary and Roscommon," Wallace remarked.
"We're talking about an Offaly team that has won one championship match in ten years, so you're not going to get any handy games," he added.
Wallace expects the issue of home advantage in that first round clash to be decided by the Leinster Council in the coming weeks, adding that "playing at home would have to be an advantage." "A lot of our lads will have grown up playing in Tullamore, and even logistically having no travelling, it would be a positive."
The former Tralee IT manager said however, that "at the end of the day, the grass will be green, there'll be two goal posts and a white ball with O'Neill's written across the front of it, no matter where we play."
Wallace says he has been attending county championship games for the last couple of months, taking in senior and intermediate games, noting that all the games are competitive, admitting that the weather and ground conditions in many of them haven't helped proceedings.
"I've met some of the senior players and I have to say, the attitude is great," Stephen told the Offaly Express. "The next thing is putting a panel together, so I've been watching plenty and taking it all in."
The new manager admitted that the league draw hasn't been kind to his side, with four away games, but he said he will want to get a look at different players over those early games. "Division 3 is a tough league now with the likes of Armagh, expected by many to win it, as well as Derry, Fermanagh and others."
"I am looking forward to getting stuck in, and I'm looking forward as well to the O'Byrne Cup fixtures to get started," he said. "There's a lot of work to be done before a ball is even kicked in the new year," he continued.
Offaly's Faithful Fields facility has also caught Wallace's eye, calling the new home of Offaly GAA "state of the art," and "a credit to all involved." "We don't even have something like it down in Kerry, so it is a wonderful base for the next generation and something to build on for sure," he said.
He also told us that he has been impressed with the county board and football review committee, a group he called "top lads," adding that they have Offaly football at their heart and are putting the right structures in place. "From what I've seen, the future is bright for Offaly, and hopefully a few of those U21 Leinster finalists from last year will develop into top senior players."
Offaly's first league game is against Longford on January 28, while their championship campaign kicks off against Wicklow in May.
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