Liam Langton and Brian Duignan will be trying to prove a point in 2023
WHILE the expectations were low at the start of the year, it was still a disappointing season for the Offaly senior hurlers.
Things never truly ignited for Michael Fennelly's charges during the year as they were relegated from Division 1 of the National Hurling League while they were eliminated from the championship, the Joe McDonagh Cup in the group stages.
It provided a real wake up call for all involved with Offaly hurling. Again, it wasn't particularly surprising and any criticism of Offaly has to be mixed in with reality and a sense of fairness as they are coming from a very low place and trying very hard to turn things around.
The team management and players tried extremely hard but it just didn't happen for them in 2022. It was disappointing as Offaly had done well in 2021, winning the Christy Ring Cup and storming to promotion in Division 2 of the National Hurling League.
Their struggles in Division 1 of the National Hurling League were always on the cards. The jump in standard from Division 2 to 1 was absolutely massive. It was too big for Offaly as they went from playing teams at their own level to top tier counties.
It didn't give them a chance to make incremental progress and while there is logic in the GAA's decision to have two strong Division 1 groups, it is very unhelpful to teams in Offaly's boat – teams in a development phase and trying to reach the top level.
Offaly received particularly bad beatings from Galway, Cork and Limerick in the league and the Cork game was the worse one as they were blown out of the water early on before losing by 4-25 to 1-15. They competed well for a while against Clare and Wexford.
Against Clare, Offaly were in the hunt well into the second half but Tony Kelly, returning to action after a long lay off, was sensational for the Munster men and they pulled away for a 4-20 to 0-16 win. Offaly's best performance was against Wexford. They were beaten 1-22 to 2-12 but they were much more competitive here and put it up to Wexford almost the whole way.
They were then relegated when Antrim beat them by 2-24 to 2-17 in Navan – Offaly had a very bad day at the office.
Despite the nature of some of the defeats, Offaly's league displays were acceptable, apart from the relegation play off, as they really were thrown in at the deep end.
It was a different story, however, in the championship where Offaly never really got going. The minimum requirement here was a place in the Joe McDonagh Cup final but these ambitions were scuppered in a very bad closing round defeat by Carlow.
Before that, Offaly had got themselves into the perfect position but they did so on their wits rather than really good form. They had performed well in their opening game in Antrim, getting their noses in front in injury time only to be denied by a late goal. A win there would have changed Offaly's season and they almost had it.
Instead, they found it hard to find true consistency in their remaining games. They beat Meath by 2-21 to 0-19 in their next game but it was a dire affair with Offaly rarely getting out of third gear and a very fussy refereeing display didn't help things as he called a huge amount of frees for throw balls.
And so it continued for Offaly. They played better when beating Down in Ballycran but there were bad periods there and then flirted with disaster before beating Kerry by 4-23 to 2-28 in an extraordinary game in Tralee. It meant that a win over Carlow in their last game would put Offaly into the final but they exploded here. For whatever reason, Offaly were remarkably lethargic on the day and the impression that this could go badly wrong for them proved well founded as they lost by 0-22 to 0-17.
It all means that there will be a lot of soul searching going on in the coming weeks, particularly with Michael Fennelly and Offaly GAA chairman Michael Duignan as they contemplate the future. Fennelly has done three years as manager and it is an equally big decision for both men.
Three years is a fair stint as manager but in fairness, they were disrupted by Covid so there wasn't an opportunity to do a lot of the work that would have been done in other terms. Offaly had progressed last year but despite playing at a higher level this year, it is impossible to avoid the impression that they went back – some players certainly did as they didn't reach the same level they had in 2021 while crucitate victim, Oisin Kelly was a big loss.
There is a case for both giving Fennelly one more year and seeking a new manager – the Kilkenny man also has to decide himself if he can make any more progress with the team or if he has brought them as far as he can. There is also a need for patience and seeing if his work will pay off but it is a really big call and not an easy decision to make. The smart money will be on Offaly seeking new management but the stance of County Board chairman Michael Duignan will determine a lot with this – even though it will be far from a one man decision.
If Fennelly is back, things will have to be freshened up in some way and it will be very interesting to see what happens.
The following is a brief opinion of how the Offaly players formed this year with ratings out of ten:
Stephen Corcoran – Stephen Corcoran took over in goals from the Limerick league game on and he was one of the Offaly success stories. The Coolderry man has worked hard on his fitness, getting into good shape and it was solid in goals as well as finding his man with puckouts and clearances. Rating – 8.
Jack Screeney – Like most Offaly players, it was a mixed bag for Jack Screeney, though he had some very good games in defence and he will improve in the coming years. Rating – 7.
Ciaran Burke – It was a strange year for the Offaly defence. Most of the players looked good at different times in different games, yet as a unit Offaly conceded way too much and this was a big problem for them. Ciaran Burke was typical of the defensive year. He was excellent in some games, an old fashioned type full back but there were also hairy moments, when opponents made hay in close to goals. Rating – 6.
David King – David King was Offaly's best player against Meath and showed his vast experience in other games. He is a generally very solid defender, one of Offaly's longest serving players, but he did lose a bit of form in the latter stages of the championship. Rating – 6.
Leon Fox – A strong and powerful player, Leon Fox brings much needed physicality to the table for Offaly. He played at both midfield and defence while he was away for the Kerry game. A solid enough year without being brilliant. Rating – 6.
Ben Conneely – It wasn't Ben Conneely's best year in the Offaly jersey but he was still one of the better players. He played mainly at centre half back though he had a couple of games in the full back line. There is a growing belief that his best position is corner back and that is possibly true but Offaly haven't been able to afford to leave him there yet. Rating – 8.
Padraig Cantwell – Shamrocks man Padraig Cantwell came onto the team late in the year, coming on as a sub against Kerry and starting against Carlow as well as Meath earlier on. He has decent prospects but has plenty of work to do. Cantwell tried very hard but didn't establish himself yet – in both games, he collided with team mates about to gather the ball and whether that was poor shouting by his colleague or poor awareness by Cantwell is not known but it is something that needs work on. Rating – 6.
Eimhin Kelly – Eimhin Kelly got a few chances during the year. He had some very good spells in games and will benefit from this year. He is also a work in progress. Rating – 6.
Killian Sampson – Sampson played wing back in some games in the league before pushing up to the attack for the championship. The Shinrone man is a very good hurler and he got some important scores – 1-5 in Down when he was man of the match and two goals against Kerry. Rating – 8.
Eoghan Cahill – Cahill is an absolutely pivotal figure for Offaly. He is a very exciting forward and puts up huge tallies in every game. The bulk are from frees but he also gets consistent scores from play. He can miss a few in games and possibly loses a bit of concentration at times but he was on song in most games. Rating – 9.
David Nally – David Nally was Offaly's match winner against Kerry, firing over the crucial late scores that kept them alive and displaying real leadership. It didn't happen for him against Carlow but Nally was the rule rather than the exception in this regard. He also got 1-3 in Belfast and rediscovered his form in the championship. Rating – 7.
Paddy Clancy – Paddy Clancy started against Carlow and was mainly used as a sub during the year. He is well capable of making an impression and getting scores. Rating – 6.
John Murphy – There were days when John Murphy set the pulse racing as he showed great pace and took quality scores. Consistency was an issue for him and he is a player who can make big strides forward. Rating – 6.
Liam Langton – Liam Langton was a huge success story last year as he excited with some great innovative play and quality scores. It didn't happen for the Killeigh man this year as he fell down the pecking order early in the season. He did find some form towards the end of the season – he came on against Down and was hungry, getting into good positions and taking it on, even though he had a couple of wides. He also came on against Kerry and played a big role as he got two points but like most others, it didn't happen for him against Carlow and he was the first man replaced. Langton has a huge amount going for him but has a point to prove in 2023. Rating – 6.
Brian Duignan – A strange sort of year for Brian Duignan who was on and off the team. He was generally either taken off after starting or brought in as a sub and confidence was a big problem for him as a result. He was so eager to impress, so honest and there were times late on in the year when he maybe rushed his shot a bit – he appeared a bit anxious on the ball. Yet, Duignan was far from bad and he has a lot to offer. With his father Michael the County Board chairman, he can be under a bit of scrutiny which is unfair for a lad that just wants to hurl. Some people might wonder at him getting a higher rating than others but I just liked the physicality he brought to the table, the something different he offered. He has loads of work to do but he clearly wants to do it. Rating – 7.
Adrian Cleary – Adrian Cleary is another player who will gain from his experiences this year. He got three points against Meath and played well in Down. There were other games where he struggled but he will improve. Rating – 6.
Luke O'Connor – Luke O'Connor has loads going for him. He has pace to burn and a real eye for the goal. He didn't establish himself in 2022 and needs to find consistency. Rating – 6.
Shane Dooley – Shane Dooley had injury problems for most of the year and came on as a sub against Kerry and Carlow. Rating – 6.
Joey Keenaghan – Joey Keenaghan got plenty of game time at different stages in 2022. A good corner back, he had good spells in any game he played. He also got forward to score points in a couple of games and will improve. Rating – 6.
Conor Clancy – Clancy was in goals for most of the league before Stephen Corcoran took over and kept the number one jersey for the championship. Clancy deserves a lot of credit for accepting this and staying on the panel. Too often, players are ready to jump ship if not playing and that is something that needs to stop, unless in very special circumstances. Rating – 6.
Sean Cleary – An unused sub against Carlow, Sean Cleary didn't get much of a chance to impress this year. Rating – 6.
Eoghan Parlon – Eoghan Parlon saw a fair bit of action during the year and the experience will help him going forward. He is a physical player and a very hard worker. Offaly need physicality in their game and he can progress more next year. Rating – 6.
Paddy Delaney – Injury disrupted Paddy Delaney's year and he saw limited action. Rating – 6.
Dara Maher – Dara Maher came on in a couple of games. He is a good hurler and is one for the future. Rating – 6.
Padraic Guinan – Padraic Guinan got limited chances on the field of play. Rating – 6.
Jason Sampson – Jason Sampson made progress this year. He got quality scores in a few games and he will progress more in the coming years. Rating – 6.
Morgan Watkins – Morgan Watkins came on as a sub against Wexford before injury ended his season. Rating – 6.
Luke Nolan – Came on as a sub against Clare but didn't feature much. Rating – 6.
Conor Molloy – Conor Molloy came on as a sub against Galway in the league. Rating – 6.
Ross Ravenhill – Injury ruined Ross Ravenhill's year. He got back during the Joe McDonagh Cup campaign and was beginning to find form but an early injury against Kerry ended his season. Offaly could do with a fully fit Ravenhill next season. Rating – 6.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.