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19 May 2022

Focused Offaly all set for another Joe McDonagh Cup banana skin

Focused Offaly all set for another Joe McDonagh Cup banana skin

Offaly midfielder Leon Fox

WITH their sights firmly set on the Joe McDonagh Cup final, Offaly senior hurlers will be threading carefully when they travel to Tralee for their fourth group game this Saturday.

Kerry represents another banana skin of a game for Offaly. Another match that they are capable of winning and should win but a tricky encounter with the potential to go badly wrong.

Results means that this is Offaly's biggest game of a campaign where they have blown hot and cold but shown some good form and got themselves into a position to reach the final.

As expected Antrim are on top of the table with six points from their three games. Offaly and Kerry are joint second on four points with Kerry having a better scoring difference - +39 points compared to +10 for Offaly. Carlow and Down have two points and Meath are bottom with no point.

It does mean that Offaly are in pole position for reaching the final and a win on Saturday will put them on the verge of it – they have Carlow at home in their last game and while that is no formality, a defeat will really load the dice against Kerry as they have to travel to Belfast.

Kerry suffered a devastating blow with a surprise first round defeat at home to Down. They have recovered well since then, hammering Carlow in the second round and running riot against Meath in round three. Those performances have put them in a very strong position if scoring difference comes into play – and this is a possibility – but that Down defeat was a complete disaster for them.

They were especially disappointed to lose on home turf and it means that Saturday's game is effectively a knockout one. Antrim play Meath in Navan this Sunday and that should seal their final place. It will be a massive shock if they don't win this and a victory will ensure their appearance in the final on June 4.

It is knockout hurling for Offaly too. If Kerry win, they will stay ahead of Offaly on the head to head rule if the teams are tied after the completion of the fifth round on May 21 while an Offaly win will have the same effect. The winners of Carlow and Down on Saturday could come back into the equation but the odds are stacked against them.

For Offaly, it is all very simple really. Win their last two games, and they will be in the final and anything else will leave them looking at another season in the Joe McDonagh Cup.

Offaly have been motoring okay. They haven't set the world on fire and the performance in the win over Meath was especially suspect but it was all about results at this stage and they are exactly where most people expected them to be.

Offaly are unlucky not to be in a considerably better position. A last gasp injury time goal denied Offaly a victory in their first game in Belfast – they would have been a bit fortunate to have won but deserved a share of the spoils.

Yet, there were plenty of positives from that game and Offaly now know they can go hurl to hurl with Antrim. They had been way off the pace against them in the National Hurling League Division 1 relegation play off a couple of months ago but competed much better up north and there wouldn't be any fear factor there for the Joe McDonagh cup final.

Offaly have to get their first, however, and Saturday's game will define their year. After that poor display against Meath, Offaly improved in their win over Down in their last game and will be hoping to up it another couple of notches here.

This is not a simple fixture. Kerry have occasionally beaten Offaly in the recent past and they will fancy their chances on home turf. They have put up big scores in their last two games and have clearly got going again.

There is considerable pressure on Offaly and it is a game where they have to perform. That is what championship hurling is all about, and Offaly will be as highly motivated as they can be.

They have been working hard and they can take a giant step towards the final and a renewal with Antrim.

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