Ace Offaly forward Eoghan Cahill
BITTERLY disapppointed to have had victory snatched from their grasp in Belfast on Saturday, Offaly senior hurlers should get their Joe McDonagh Cup title bid up and running when they welcome Meath to Tullamore next Saturday.
While the concession of a winning goal to Antrim deep in injury time was a devastating blow to Offaly, their confidence will be in much better shape than it was after relegation from Division 1 of the National Hurling League a few weeks ago.
Offaly had been very poor in that relegation play off defeat by Antrim, a country mile off where they needed to be but they were way better in Belfast. Offaly might have stole it had they won it as they didn't play as well in the second half as the first. Even before Jack Screeney was sent off for a second yellow card, Offaly were struggling to make the wind advantage count in that second half and they looked to be heading for an inevitable defeat when Antrim led by five inside the last five minutes.
However, Offaly showed terrific character to battle back from the brink, scoring 1-3 without reply to snatch the lead in injury time. Over the course of the seventy minutes, they deserved a draw but it was not to be and it was Antrim who got the breathing space for the rest of the programme.
Offaly and Antrim do look to be the best two teams in the competition and there is a very good chance of them meeting in the final again in a few weeks time. Offaly, however, have very little margin for error now and they need to win their four remaining games. This is not simple with two long trips to Down and Kerry – Down have fixed their home game for Ballycran, way up in the Ard peninsula. It is a near three and a half hour journey from Tullamore, much more difficult to reach than their main county ground in Newry and Offaly have objected to the venue.
They want the game in Newry which would be a much fairer venue, especially from a logistics point of view but they will abide by whatever decision authorities make and get on with it.
At the moment their sole attention is on Meath next Saturday and this is a must win game for them. It will be a complete disaster if Offaly lose this and they would probably need to be fierce bad to suffer a defeat.
It looks like Meath will be the whipping boys in the competition this year. They were hammered by Carlow last Saturday, 4-30 to 0-17 while Down edged out Kerry in the other game, 1-19 to 0-18. It suggests that Carlow will be the main obstacle to Offaly and a final place but they also have to beat Carlow, Kerry and Down.
Meath at home is a good game for them to get things up and running after last Saturday's trauma. There is plenty for Offaly to work on. Their first touch was not as good as it could have been at times on Saturday and their overall conditioning levels is a work in progress that will happen in incremental stages.
They should win with a bit to spare on Saturday and Offaly should also be trying to enhance their scoring difference in case this does come into play later in the campaign.
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