The Offaly Senior Camogie team will begin their All Ireland Championship campaign this Saturday as they travel up the motorway to take on Dublin in their opening game.
Offaly reached the heady heights of the All Ireland semi-final last year and they will be hoping for at least a repeat performance this time around.
Offaly have not consistently hit their top form so far this year but they have shown enough in patches to suggest that they will be a force to be reckoned with in Group 2.
The championship has changed this year with the nine senior teams now split into two groups and after their opener against Dublin, Offaly will host Tipperary before travelling to face Cork in their final game.
If Offaly are to make the knockout stages, they will need to get off to a winning start as only two teams from Group 2 are guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals. The third placed team will take on the fourth placed finishers in Group 1 for the final quarter-final place.
There has been little to chose between Offaly and Dublin in recent years. The sides were in different groups in the league this year but ended with similar records winning one of their games which meant they missed out on the knockout stages.
Offaly should have ended the league with a better record but after poor finishing cost them in their opening game against Derry, they also lost out to Kilkenny in their final game which meant they missed out on a place in the knockout stages.
Offaly faced Kilkenny again in the Leinster semi-final but after getting themselves in a good position against the wind in the first-half, they conceded two goals after half-time and despite fighting back well, couldn’t overcome the deficit.
Dublin also exited the Leinster Championship at the first hurdle with a 1-15 to 0-4 defeat at the hands of All Ireland Champions Wexford meaning both teams will be hoping for a change in fortune to start the championship.
Offaly will go into the game without captain Arlene Watkins who misses the game through injury with a fractured ankle she suffered four weeks ago. Karen Connolly is also a doubt for the game but manager Aidan Franks has depth to call on to replace his injured players.
Earlier this year Offaly won the All Ireland Minor B title and a number of players from that team could be in contention to start this Saturday.
The Offaly Junior team also performed well in their two recent outings in Leinster and there are likely to be players from that team called up to the senior panel.
The Offaly backs will have to keep a close eye on the Dublin forwards with full-forward Sarah Ryan always a constant threat. Dublin free taker Alison Maguire will punish any indiscipline with her accurate free taking. Dublin will be well orgainsed defensively and Offaly will need a better return from their forwards than they garnered in their league and provincial championship games.
Elaine Dermody and Arlene Watkins have carried the scoring burden for Offaly and with Watkins out injured, they will need other players to step up to the mark and take their scores.
If Offaly perform to their ability they are more than capable of winning in Dublin this Saturday which would put them in a very strong position ahead of a home game against Tipperary.
They have the talent and experience to come back from O’Toole Park with the win but if they switch off at any stage, as they have done in other games this year, they could come unstuck against a strong Dublin side.
Meanwhile, just under a month since the sides met in the first round of the Leinster Junior Championship, Offaly and Dublin will go head to head again in the opening round of the All Ireland Junior A Championship.
Offaly came away with a win in that game played in Kilcotton in County Laois on a scoreline of 3-8 to 0-14 and they will be hoping for a repeat performance this time around.
There are just four teams in the Junior A Championship with Offaly following up their trip to Dublin with home games against Carlow and Cavan.
Offaly were the only one of the four teams not to take part in the league while Carlow won Division 4 and Dublin lost out in the Division 3 Final to Laois.
However Offaly were competing in and winning the All Ireland Minor B Championship and five of those players featured in their win over Dublin and narrow loss to eventual champions Kildare in the Leinster Junior Championship.
There are also a number of other players under 21 in the team but the star of the show in the first two games was veteran Michelle Davis who was in superb scoring form and who will be a key player for Offaly if they are to perform well in the championship.
Manager Sean O’Meara, who also guided Offaly to their All Ireland Minor success, will have a close eye on the Senior game against Dublin as a number of the players who lined out against Dublin and Kildare could be called up to Aidan Franks’ side.
However over recent years the depth in Offaly camogie has increased considerably and even if players are promoted to senior, O’Meara will field a strong side that will more than fancy their chances of recording another win over Dublin.