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28/09/2021

Kiely opts out as eleven new faces drafted into Offaly senior hurling panel

Kiely opts out as eleven new faces drafted into Offaly senior hurling panel

Cillian Kiely has pulled out of the Offaly senior hurling panel.

CILLIAN Kiely has pulled out of the Offaly senior hurling panel, dealing a significant blow to manager Michael Fennelly's plans for the 2021 season.

Kiely is the standout name in a list of players who have opted out for the coming year due to a mixture of reasons – personal, work commitments and a desire to concentrate on their clubs and try to rediscover their form.

Kiely's withdrawal is for personal reasons and his presence will be badly missed as he had been one of Offaly's best players in their ill-fated Christy Ring Cup campaign. The Kilcormac/Killoughey man played well at centre half back in the win over Derry and semi-final defeat by Down as Offaly's ambitions of a place in the final and promotion back to the Joe McDonagh Cup bit the dust.

The withdrawals have partly resulted in eleven new players being called up, representing a major shake up in the panel.

The other players who have withdrawn include Shinrone's Sean Cleary, Dan Doughan and Michael Cleary, Andy Flynn (Lusmagh), Brendan Murphy (Birr), Seir Kieran's Kevin Dunne, Kinnitty's James Dempsey and Shamrocks' David O'Toole-Greene.  

The twelve new players include three U-20s and other players who impressed during the club championships or had been in earlier in 2020 but didn't make the cut or went away to develop their strength and conditioning and overall fitness levels,

The three U-20s are St Rynagh's Luke O'Connor, Padraig Cantwell of Shamrocks and Eamon Cleary (Shinrone). Attacking prospect O'Connor got a cartilage operation a few weeks ago but Michael Fennelly is hopeful that he will be ready for action by the end of February,

Other additions to the panel are: John Murphy and Aaron Maher (Ballinamere), Jordan Quinn (Kilcormac/Killoughey), Evan Kelly (Lusmagh), Podge Guinan (Drumcullen), Conor Clancy (St Rynagh's), Rory Carty and Dylan Watkins (both Birr).

Cillian Kiely's talented younger brother Cathal spoke with Michael Fennelly before Christmas but was unable to commit because of work commitments in January that won't allow him to train due to late nights while he is also rehabbing an injury at the moment – an accurate scorer from frees and play, Kiely has a gilmore groin injury that severely limited his influence in Offaly's Leinster U-20 Hurling Championship defeat by Dublin in December.

The addition of Eamon Cleary and return of Conor Clancy means that Offaly will have three goalkeepers unless cuts are made later in the Spring – last year's goalkeeper Stephen Corcoran (Coolderry) is back on board again.

As things stand, Offaly will be allow to resume training on January 15 in preparation for Division 2A of the National Hurling League which is scheduled to get underway on February 27/28.

While disappointed at the number of withdrawals, Kilkenny legend Michael Fennelly is not unduly perturbed, describing it as a “natural progression” as he begins a rebuilding programme in earnest.

“It is a big number of changes. A lot of younger players are in,” he said today. “The panel was young but it is a lot younger now. We are trying to develop the youth in Offaly. It will take time for them to develop at inter-county level but it is about the future and that is the way we have to go. We are very much looking at the long term. We are here for Offaly hurling and getting young players who are eager to learn and want to play for Offaly. They are very motivated from what I have seen and are eager to develop.”

Fennelly is delighted to have ten new faces on board. “Some were in during September/October for a look. Some needed work, gym programmes etc. One third of the panel is new, some were naturally coming and others have been picked on their club form,” he commented.

He has no issue with any player who opted out. “A large part of the lads opted to go back to club level and try and find their form there. Some are very busy building houses and other stuff. Some have personal commitments and a handful just moved on.”

Cillian Kiely is the biggest name to depart and the manager declared: “You are always disappointed when a player moves away. Cillian is a very talented individual. He was in good form for his club and played quite well for us in our two championship games. He wasn't with us a whole pile during the year. For the league and Keogh Cup, he had an injury. His training was up and down and he was quite busy off the field. It is disappointing but I respect his decision and we are moving on. There are ten new faces on the panel now and I am looking forward to working with them.”

Offaly's aim is promotion in both league and championship but Fennelly is under no illusions about the challenge they face in the league. “The league is very competitive. Carlow and Kerry are there. Down are up. Wicklow and Meath are there. Carlow and Kerry are two very competent teams. We all know the strides Kerry have made. We have new young players coming in and it will take time to get them up to speed. For the long term, we have to go this way.”

Fennelly is now in his second year as manager and even though last year was severely disrupted because of Covid-19, he is now way more familiar with Offaly hurling and the players at his disposal.

When it was suggested that it was no harm to change things after not winning promotion in league or championship last season, he replied: “Last year was our first year and I wouldn't think we needed to freshen it up a whole lot. We were looking at what was coming through from the U-20s and picking the panel based on club games. Last year, we picked the panel after talking to a number of people. We were getting to know the players. Covid came then and we never got a chance to review the panel after April. We know more now. A lot moved on naturally, the players had no issue with the management side, I am pleased to say. They are happy with the set up and the environment and we are all ready to move on now.”

Fennelly has also finalised his backroom team and it is more or less the same as last year, with a couple of additions. His fellow former Kilkenny hurler, Michael Kavanagh and Belmont's David Kenny are back as selectors. Portumna man, Johnny Kelly, a very successful club manager, is back as coach and the strength and conditioning guru is Ciaran Keogh, a Meath man living in Dublin. The physio is Kinnitty hurler Colm Coughlan while a new addition is former Offaly minor football manager Keith Begley who will be working on the sports psychology side of things and Adam Harte (Birr) is an extra on the team analysis group.

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