In the build up to last Sunday’s game with Kildare, Offaly manager Tom Coffey was realistic when he spoke about his side’s chances of causing a major upset.
In the wake of Sunday’s defeat, the most recently appointed inter-county manager in the country was refreshingly frank when asked if it was the case that Offaly had been beaten by the better team on the day.
“Beaten by the better team by far,” remarked Coffey. “I think we knew coming into it that Kildare had taken it to another level. Themselves and Dublin have broken away from the pack in Leinster anyway and they’d be in the top three or four to win the All Ireland. That is the reality. The lads trained hard the last eight weeks which would have been six weeks hard going. We played plenty of matches and we put our best on the field but there was still 13 points separating us at the end of it.”
While were Offaly were on the end of the scoreline, they could not be faulted for effort. They showed a willingness to work hard right to the final whistle but by that time they had been worn down by Kildare and their energy was all but sapped. Speaking after the game, Tom Coffey had nothing but praise for the efforts of his side on the field and in the lead up to the game.
“You can’t fault the guys. They gave it everything. The last few weeks they were in bed early, the diet was 100% and they turned up and went through the pain barrier in training. But the conditioning of that Kildare team and the fitness level they are at, it’s a credit to themselves and Kieran McGeeney and the Kildare people but if you want to compete you’ve got to get to that level and we’ve got to address it. At the minute we’ve a lot of addressing to do in Offaly.”
While noting that a lot of work needs to be done, Tom Coffey is under no illusions as to the resources that Offaly would be able to commit in comparison with other counties.
“I’d say the first thing with Offaly is that we won’t be able to afford to get to that level looking at the expenses that these teams are producing at the end of the year. But Offaly is not a Division 4 team. I’m not saying they should be winning All Irelands but they should be up with Meath, Laois, that area and competing maybe in Division 2 and that’s where we need to get to. We need to knuckle down and get honest guys and proper conditioning coach and proper training and a structure and a game plan and move on.”
When asked about Offaly’s aspirations for the qualifiers, Tom Coffey was adamant that Offaly would approach them in the same manner that they did last Sunday’s game.
“Well everyday I go out I’d like to win, number one. There’s championship on Tuesday night so we’ll be back training Wednesday night. We’ll be knuckling down straight away trying to get injuries sorted and getting back onto the training field. We’ll be respecting the qualifiers the very same way we did the first round of the championship.”
The Offaly side last Sunday that took to the field was already young relative to most other sides but the average age dropped as the game went on with minor star Peter Cunningham making his senior debut. Tom Coffey has been heavily involved with minor and U-21 sides in Offaly and he agreed that the talent was there and that the county should progress at senior level as a result.
“I think we’ve been in five Leinster Finals in minor and one at U-21 so there’s plenty of guys knocking around. We mightn’t have won the Leinster but that still means you’re second best in Leinster so we should be higher than where we are.
“I’m not saying that we should be winning All Irelands but we should be higher than where we are. It’s important to get those guys in and have them all on the one wavelength with a decent training programme and conditioning coach and their level will rise. If there’s competition there and a professional attitude, it will spread and you’ll automatically get closer to the rest.”
One positive for Offaly fans last Sunday was the return to action of Niall McNamee. While still finding his fitness and in particular his match fitness, McNamee’s return was very welcome and Tom Coffey believes it was an important step in his recovery.
“Niall has gone through a programme and he got there only the last week or two. But match practice is a big thing at this level and really Niall didn’t play since last year. We needed a big man in there. He is very talented. We played a few games where the opposition wouldn’t be as good a quality and he did reasonably well but today it wasn’t going to happen. Kildare are too strong for the likes of Niall to come in out of nowhere and start playing well.”