Offaly minor hurling star Adam Screeney
OFFALY minor footballers and hurlers face into a huge week with two big season defining Leinster championship games ahead of them.
Both have the advantage of home games and this will be a major help to their prospects. Offaly have a local derby against Laois in the Leinster Minor Football Championship quarter-final on Wednesday evening at 7pm in Tullamore. On Saturday, Offaly welcome Dublin to Tullamore for the Leinster Minor Hurling Championship semi-final.
Both sides will approach the games from similar places. They will be wary of the opposition, slightly fearful of the worse but at the same time, optimistic about their chances and confident of giving a very good account of themselves.
There is doubts about both sides. The minor footballers have blown hot and cold and while the minor hurlers have performed well, the Dubs will be their biggest test of the season by a country mile.
The minor football game will attract a decent crowd to Tullamore. There is a great appetite among supporters for midweek games and a local derby will always excite the senses. Offaly come into this on the back of some very mixed form.
Drawn in a group along with Kildare, Meath and Longford, they came out of it with one win and two losses. They got a bad beating from Kildare in their first game and were well off the pace that day. A dramatic last gasp victory over Meath secured their place in the knockout stages while they were well beaten by Longford in their final group game – qualification was assured and the defeat meant that they had to play a preliminary quarter-final rather than go direct to the quarter-final.
That worked out well for Offaly. The extra game did them no harm at all and they also produced their best display of the year as they ate Carlow alive. Carlow were very poor on the day and that has to be taken into account but Offaly's confidence is now much higher than it was. They played very good attacking football on the day, took great scores and it sets them up well.
Offaly certainly won't fear Laois. The O'Moore County had a 3-7 to 0-10 win over Westmeath in their first game. Dublin hockeyed them, 2-15 to 0-4 while they completed the group phase with an impressive 4-19 to 0-12 win over Louth.
It meant that they went direct to the quarter-finals and while Laois may be marginal favourites, this is very much a 50/50 game. The games will bring Ken Furlong's charges on a lot. This will be their fifth game of the championship and that is very good for a young team of this age. It gives players a chance to grow into themselves and with Furlong, Cathal Daly and Stephen Lonergan at the helm, they have had a good run at doing things the right way.
A semi-final place is very possible for Offaly, who will have to continue to improve.
The minor hurlers have a lot going for them and they also have the benefit of games. They progressed out of the second tier with wins over Kildare and Laois – they beat Kildare easily and were given a good test by Laois. They turned in an excellent second half to easily beat Antrim in the preliminary quarter-final in Dowdalshill, Dundalk last Saturday and will be hopeful of an upset against the Dubs.
They are definite underdogs. Dublin defeated Kilkenny and lost to Wexford in tier one and a point was the margin of victory in both those games. That shows how good Dublin are and tier one is a considerable step up from the second tier.
At the same time, Offaly have been working extremely hard on their skill levels and physicality. They have a good, highly rated team and they have a good outside chance here. The absolute key for Offaly is to hit the ground running, not to let Dublin hit them for a spate of early scores. To stay competitive well into the second half and see where it goes from there.
Offaly have a lot going for them. They have some fine, exciting hurlers, they are very honest and they really want to succeed. It is just hard to know how they will go – Dublin have been operating at a different level than Offaly in hurling grades for some times, though there have been occasions when Offaly have done very well against them. This team does look to have decent prospects but Saturday will tell a lot more.
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