Cathal Guinan clearing for Offaly against Laois.
A TRIP to Parnell Park in Dublin represents the biggest challenge of the season for Offaly but they will still travel with considerably more than hope for Wednesday's Leinster Minor Football Championship semi-final.
Leinster MFC semi-final preview
Offaly will be the underdogs against the Dubs but their confidence is flying after excellent performances in their last two games and a final place against the winners opf Kildare and Wicklow is a very realistic goal for Offaly.
It is a tough task for Offaly and Dublin have a very good team. They have been in impressive form this year. In the group stages, they beat Louth 5-14 to 1-1, Laois 2-15 to 0-4 and Westmeath, 2-14 to 0-11, to qualify with a 100% record.
It earned them a place in the semi-finals and they have been able to work hard on the training ground in recent weeks while Offaly have had a busy schedule of games.
The games, however, have served Offaly very well and they have turned a quite spectacular corner in recent weeks. Offaly's form in the group stages did not suggest that a provincial final place was a remote possibility.
They were very poor in a first round defeat against Kildare, scraped over Meath with a very fortunate injury time goal and were well beaten by Longford in their last group game. The Meath win earned Offaly a place in the preliminary quarter-finals and they did play well for a long time that day.
Since then, however, Offaly have improved beyond recognition. They beat Carlow by 5-16 to 2-7 in the preliminary quarter-final and had another super display as they beat Laois by 2-20 to 1-6 in the quarter-final last Wednesday evening.
In both cases, the opposition looked to be poor but to talk about any inadequacies in the opposition is doing a grave injustice to Offaly. No matter who you are playing, 5-16 and 2-20 is serious scoring and it was in knockout fare against sides who had to win games to get there.
The style of football Offaly are playing, their attacking instincts and work rate is winning them admirers and they now look to be a very decent side.
Dublin will tell a lot more but Offaly's form suggests that they will be competitive, at the least. Both beat Laois by similar margins and while a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since Dublin played them, Offaly's two latest performances augurs well for them.
Games have brought this young side on a tonne and they have to be an advantage for Offaly this week. Their preparations have been complicated by the presence of dual players in their squad – Shane Rigney, Donal Shirley and Niall Furlong all played for Offaly minor hurlers in their fine Leinster semi-final win over Dublin on Saturday and are key players for both managers.
With minor football games on mid week, minor hurling on weekends, it has been a very busy schedule for those three and rest and recovery has been crucial to them staying on the road. So far, the two managers, Ken Furlong (football) and Leo O'Connor (hurling) have managed this very well and it is significant that this trio were among the best players for both footballers and hurlers in their most recent games.
Offaly received a bad beating from Dublin in the 2021 Leinster Minor Football Championship last year but it came a couple of weeks after some of their team had played in the delayed 2020 Leinster final defeat by Meath. It was a strange year with the management trying to prepare two separate squads at the same time, albeit with some crossover of players and Covid-19 restrictions playing havoc with preparations – as well as creating uncertainty about fixtures.
Offaly were within a hair's breath of beating Meath in that 2020 final and the performances of this team is creating further optimism about the future. It is clear that a lot of good work has taken place over a number of years and the potential spin off for Offaly, at all age levels, is immense.
Another Leinster final appearance would really add to this and that is the target. There was a time when Offaly would have written off any game against Dublin as one they couldn't win. There is a chance that this could go badly wrong and they could be well beaten. You simply don't know at minor level and heads can drop quickly if a team gets a run on them. However, Offaly's very impressive win over Dublin in the 2021 Leinster U-20 final has removed that fear factor, taken away a lot of their air of invincibility.
Offaly will travel with a lot of hope. The key is to hit the ground running from the start, hang in there for as long as you can and be in a position to ask questions of their opponents in the closing quarter. Dublin teams have shown a vulnerable under belly at underage level but you have to be within touching distance to expose this. It's not quite a 50-50 game and most observers will expect Dublin to win in Parnell Park but Offaly's recent form has been exciting and compelling. It suggests that they won't be far away.
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