The expressions speak volumes as team mentor Eddie Fleming and coach Tomas O'Se look on during Offaly's defeat by Wexford,
A VISIBLY disappointed and disheartened Offaly senior football manager John Maughan was quick to admit that his side didn't perform to standard and that a better Wexford side had won in the Leinster Senior Football Championship first round at Wexford Park on Sunday afternoon.
However, after holding his hands up about Offaly's own inadequacies, their lack of attacking penetration and the mistakes they made, the Mayo man did outline the extent of their “chaotic” injury situation.
While Offaly knew from a long way out that they were going to be without long term absentees, Cian Farrell, Eoin Rigney, Peter Cunningham and Eoin Carroll, and a more medium term one in Jack Bryant – the Shamrocks attacker has been out for the last seven weeks with a hamstring injury -, they got hit with a succession of body blows in the past week plus.
Their star forward Niall McNamee and another marquee attacker, his first cousin Ruari McNamee were ruled out with hamstrings injuries that they sustained with their championship date in sight. Cathal Donoghue, a key member of last year's All-Ireland U-20 winning side, was out with a knee injury and is waiting for a scan that will determine the seriousness of this – Maughan revealed afterwards thatr it could be either a dreaded cruciate injury or a dislocated knee cap.
Under Croke Park rules, Offaly had to submit their panel by 9am on Thursday morning and team management had some very difficult decisions to make. Offaly played Kildare in the Leinster U-20 Football Championship semi-final that night and there was a big debate and dilemma over whether to name any of those players – if Offaly had won, they would have been unavailable.
Maughan and selectors took a chance on naming three of the U-20s in the subs, even though they desperately wanted Offaly to reach the Leinster final and for them to be unavailable. As it turned out, Offaly suffered a disappointing defeat against Kildare, losing their way after getting into a winning position in the second half, but again lady luck turned the other way. Two of those, Keith O'Neill and John Furlong picked up injuries that meant they couldn't play – O'Neill tore a calf in the closing minutes of the Kildare game while Furlong's troublesome groin injury flared up in the warm up in Wexford. An U-20 player Lee Pearson did come in, performing very well but it meant that only nine of Offaly's eleven subs could be used and that includes Niall McNamee, who could only have been played as sub goalkeeper.
Maughan revealed that they had planned on using Furlong but his groin was “really sore” and they had to rule him out. Their tale of woe had been completed when sub goalie, Ian Duffy tore a groin after the panel was named. The only change allowed on the submitted panel is to replace a sub goalkeeper and Offaly added Niall McNamee to the 26 on Sunday morning – McNamee, however, could only be used as a sub goalkeeper and not outfield.
“It was very frustrating, chaotic really. In the last week, we were afraid to train in case another went down. That is how desperate things were. When you have to submit a team at 9am on a Thursday morning, you are not allowed make any changes to it, with one exception sub goalie, and we introduced Niall McNamee to avail of that. Just to tog him out for his experience and his guile. I can only use him in one position and that was in goal. I couldn't use him as an outfield player, otherwise we might have taken a chance with him near the end. It is a stupid, ridiculous rule. I spoke to the referee and two linesmen before hand and they all agreed with me. It is what it is. They were very close today. I think Niall McNamee would have been fit to play next weekend and perhaps Ruari but it was not to be.”
Even with all those problems, Maughan was still confident that Offaly would be good enough to secure a home quarter-final against Dublin next Saturday.
“I knew it was going to be tough down here, particularly when we got a few body blows last week with injuries. I knew we were thin on the ground, yet I thought we would have enough experience, guile and know how to get over a Wexford team that play a very defensive style of play and are a very good counter attacking team. We weren't happy with our performance, no question about that.
“On another occasion, if we had one or two of our more experienced players, that is a game we would certainly have won. We have to take it on the chin, we just weren't good enough. Wexford were better than us on the day.”
He agreed that Offaly didn't do near enough in the first half when they went in with a point lead after playing with a strong wind.
“Very frustrating, we created one goal chance really which is not good enough. We did not have a real focal point inside on the edge of the square. That is where the likes of Niall McNamee, the guile and experience of him would have been invaluable. A point up and that was a four or five point breeze, you would have expected to be more up. We needed to be at least four or five up. We didn't, yet we went four up at the start of the second half but some of our turnovers were crazy. We gave ball back to the opposition so easily. Stupid mistakes. I know it is difficult out there, it is a very difficult pitch to play on because of the wind and one thing and another but our turnovers were a lot higher than Wexford's.”
He was asked about Offaly players drifting back but not really picking up men when down in defence.
“It is not that we don't talk about this on a regular basis. Guys have a tendency to drift back and it was frustrating. It is what it is. The bottom line is it has been a bad week for Offaly with the U-20s and ourselves being beaten. We would hope that our season doesn't end with this negative feeling that we have right now and that we will pick it up for the Tailtean Cup. We will give the lads a week or ten days off and hopefully come back refreshed and re-energized. And maybe have a go at trying to finish out the season on a positive note.”
Maughan also spoke about the mistakes Offaly made and frees being brought forward for dissent.
“I can understand an element of frustration. We felt we weren't getting those marginal calls. They were going Wexford's way, home down decisions and all that but that was very frustrating. A lack of discipline from experienced players making it easy for the oppiosition. That was just one of a myriad of things that went awry for us today.”
Now Offaly find themselves with time to spare before they play in the Tailtean Cup at the end of May. With Dublin in the quarter-final, they were always going to end up in the second tier competition but have ended up there earlier than planned and picking things up now is no easy task.
The manager hopes they will give it a go, after having a week plus off.
“You would hope that those lads who love their county and wearing the jersey and who didn't come here to lose today will try and restore a bit of pride in it with a few quality performances in the Tailtean Cup. Our plan is to take a week to nine days off, go back to their clubs and come back re-energized and focused. Let's see who we get in the Tailtean Cup and have a go at winning it. That is what we will be trying to do. I would hope some of our injuries situation would tidy up as well. We have had an awful lot of that and it is bad luck.”
He is very disappointed that they won't get to see where they are against Dublin and he acknowledged that it is a blow for the town of Tullamore.
“That is a sickener for the town and business people of Tullamore as well. Having a crack at the Dubs was the prize out of today and it is really disappointing. I am sure all those public houses, restaurants and hotels in Tullamore will be cursing me and the Offaly team and understandably so.”
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