Two weeks after their hurling counterparts struggled to see off Meath in the Leinster Championship, the Offaly minor footballers take on the Royal county under no illusions as to the difficulty of the task facing them.
While the hurlers went in as hot favourites, the Offaly footballers know there will be little to chose between them and their perennial rivals in O’Connor Park this Saturday afternoon.
In real terms this is Offaly’s first game of the campaign as their 50 plus point annihilation of Kilkenny did little but reinforce the point that football in the black and amber county will never make a meaningful breakthrough.
While Offaly were putting 8-30 up on the board on a Friday night in Ballyragget, Meath had a much stiffer examination against Longford where they eventually prevailed by a point. Longford subsequently went on to see off Laois in the back door.
In the early season Leinster Minor Football League, both Offaly and Meath went through their campaigns unbeaten however a draw for Offaly against Dublin cost them a semi-final place. Meath made it to the final where they lost to Dublin at the end of March.
It must be noted that Offaly’s impressive results in the league where at times without the services of a number of players due to commitments with school teams.
The expectations surrounding the Offaly minor footballers this year are understandably very high given that two schools from the county, Gallen CS and St Mary’s, Edenderry both made it to Croke Park on Easter Saturday to play in All Ireland A Finals.
There are plenty of talented players in the team from across the county none more so than St Broughan’s Peter Cunningham who made a huge impact when introduced for the Offaly U-21s in the Leinster semi-final against Louth. Unfortunately the result did not go Offaly’s way but his performance marked him out as real star. Alongside Cunningham in the half-forward line is the prolific Joe Maher from Ferbane who scored 13 points against Kilkenny which is an impressive display of accuracy no matter what the opposition.
In their opening game Meath saw off Longford by 1-11 to 0-11 with the vital score coming from the penalty spot in the first half. Wing-forward Cillian O’Sullivan was their scorer in chief on the day accounting for six points with five coming from play. Corner forward Stephen Coogan showed his prowess from distance lofting over two ‘45s meaning Offaly will have to maintain their discipline right across the back line or Meath will likely punish them from placed balls.
While not quite an annual get together, this Saturday evening’s showdown will be the six between the sides in the Leinster Championship since 2005. Meath hold the upper hand by 3-2 in terms of wins with two of those (2006 & 2008) coming in Leinster Finals. Offaly won the most recent meeting in the 2010 quarter-final by a point and it is unlikely that there will be much to chose between the sides when the final whistle goes in O’Connor Park.
While they have played a number of challenge games in recent weeks, Offaly are somewhat untested coming into the game.
The lengthy runs of school teams will not have helped manager John Ryan and his selectors Ger Keyes and John Murray with their preparations but there is vast experience in the ranks in comparison to most other minor teams which will be an asset in the dressing room and on the field.
The Offaly minor footballers have been one of the few shining lights for the county in recent years and the expectations are as high this year as at any stage since the first of a run of final appearance in 2005.
There is no doubting the talent in the side but Meath are always tough opponents and Offaly will need to be on their game when they take to the field at 2pm this Saturday if they are to keep their quest for silverware on track.