09 Aug 2022

O'Se the clear front runner as Maughan's time comes to natural end in Offaly

Committee to seek new Offaly senior football management as Fennelly future remains up in the air

O'Se the clear front runner as Maughan's time comes to natural end in Offaly

TOMAS O'Se is the clear front runner to be the new Offaly senior football manager after today's announcement confirming John Maughan's departure.

Maughan's decision to step down as manager was expected by almost everyone in Offaly. The Mayo man served for four years as manager and his time had come to its natural end in the county.

From the minute that Offaly's Tailteann Cup campaign was ended by Westmeath in the semi-final, it was clear that they would be seeking new management for 2023. Maughan was always likely to pull the pin himself and had he sought another year, his chances of being reappointed by the County Board would have been slim.

It is good that his departure appears to have been reached amicably with Maughan making his own call. A statement issued by the Offaly GAA County Board on Wednesday morning stated that Maughan had decided to step down and chairman Michael Duignan thanked him for his “positive contribution” over the past four years. The Board also thanked the back room team and John for their dedication and commitment over the past four years.

There will be speculation now about his successor, though you can be sure that bookmakers will be offering very prohibitive odds on Kerry folk hero Tomas O'Se becoming the next manager. A brilliant defender during a long playing career, O'Se came in as a coach under Maughan for the 2022 season and he is a clear favourite to step up.

A committee of County Board chairman, Michael Duignan, secretary Colm Cummins, treasurer Dervill Dolan and two others will be appointed to make recommendations to the County Board for the new management. The other two people are likely to be put in place by the weekend and they won't allow the dust to settle before putting names forward.

O'Se and Kilclonfert man, Declan Kelly are the two obvious candidates for the job but Michael Duignan has stated that Kelly has ruled himself out at the moment because of his busy schedule. Kelly has emerged as the leading candidate within Offaly after leading the county to a sensational All-Ireland U-20 Football Championship success in 2021.

Members of that U-20 side will be establishing themselves in the coming couple of years, though Tullamore trio Cormac Egan, John Furlong and Oisin Keenan-Martin are currently recovering from long term injuries. Their development and progress will determine where Offaly football goes and there may be a transitional period for a couple of years as the guard changes. Team captain Johnny Moloney is likely to consider stepping away as he is now the father of a young child and living and working in Galway. Niall Darby's county career is almost certainly over as well – he did his cruciate before the Tailteann Cup semi-final and has described this as a “cruel way to end” his county career.

A couple of others may also drift away. Bernard Allen withdrew from the panel before the Tailteann Cup semi-final after falling out of favour with Maughan – the Tubber forward is likely to want to return but is now approaching the veteran stages of his county career.

Declan Kelly would have had plenty of support within Offaly after his U-20 exploits but the timing of stepping up would be a big consideration for him, assuming he was wanted. He would also have been aware of the likelihood that O'Se was the preferred option for County Board officers at the moment.

While O'Se didn't have much managerial experience, he was a high profile appointment as coach this year. His playing exploits command the utmost of respect. He was one of the best footballers in the country during a long county playing career from 1998 to 2013 – winning five All-Ireland senior football medals, 9 Munster titles and five All-Stars. A teak tough, no nonsense defender, he was superbly consistent.

His appointment as coach for 2022 was instigated by County Board chairman, Michael Duignan, rather than Maughan – though it could not have happened without the manager's agreement. The County Board felt that the management structure needed to be freshened up and O'Se proved very popular with players. He will be a popular choice as a manager.

Duignan and O'Se would have known each other well through their work as RTE analysts and significantly O'Se gave up his RTE and other media work to concentrate on Offaly. He is very unlikely to have done this for a one season gig and from the minute his coaching role was announced, there was a feeling that he was being lined up as Maughan's eventual successor.

O'Se will almost certainly form a pivotal role in the new management and Michael Duignan has revealed that he is interested in being manager. It could be as a coach but the smart money will be on him being the next manager. Michael Duignan has a vast network of contacts all over the country and he will be talking to plenty of people.

Other names may come into the equation and Offaly is a more attractive proposition than it has been in some time. The U-20 football success is a factor in this while the finances of the County Board are improving the whole time. Glenisk are the new sponsors while golfer Shane Lowry is on board as a financial backer, helping to attract money from a variety of sources. It means that Offaly will have money to invest in their senior football team and they won't be shy about doing this, though they will obviously be very prudent.

The Michael Duignan led committee will also be making recommendations for the appointment of Offaly U-20 and minor football managers. Declan Kelly will get another year as U-20 manager if he wishes but he will have to end his term at some time and it won't be a big surprise if he opts out now after four years of terrific achievement and progress – Kelly has really raised the bar in the county and is not afraid to make tough calls. Thanks to his leadership and many others, young players have a new awareness of what it takes to be county footballers.

If Kelly did step down, Ken Furlong would be his obvious replacement. The Tullamore man has guided Offaly minor footballers for the past three years and has also been part of the process of raising standards, improving the culture among young footballers in the county. Offaly reached the Leinster minor football final in 2020 – played in 2021 because of Covid, Offaly were agonisingly close to beating Meath and that team is now U-20 next year, where they will have very decent prospects.

A tie up between senior and U-20 football managements is a possibility, though Kelly's intentions may dictate this.

John Maughan leaves the job after four mixed seasons. He came into the job for 2019 after a very turbulent 2018. Kerry man Stephen Wallace was replaced as manager half way during the season after a shocking Leinster Senior Football Championship defeat by Wicklow and the county was in a very bad place at that stage. Tullamore's Paul Rouse stepped in as interim manager for the remainder of the season but didn't seek to stay on. Rhode's Paschal Kellaghan and Tullamore's Mark Plunkett sought the job but Maughan was appointed after coming into the fray.

A tough individual who doesn't suffer fools gladly, Maughan and Offaly were a good fit initially and he steadied the ship. He raised the bar for players, demanding full commitment, he was very solid and Offaly made some progress in his time. They were very close to beating Meath and Kildare in the Leinster Senior Football Championship but suffered narrow defeats while they won promotion to Division 2 of the National Football League in a shortened campaign in 2021.

It didn't happen for Maughan or Offaly this year as they were relegated back to Division 3 and then lost to Wexford in the championship – Offaly were very understrength that day. They tried hard in the Tailteann Cup, beating Wexford, Wicklow and New York but the scale of their defeat by Westmeath, the difference in physicality between the sides came as a shock to most in the county and it made Maughan's departure inevitable.

He has shown great commitment and loyalty to Offaly and his squad. While he found the travel from his Castlebar home very hard and regularly spoke about this, he stayed for four years and had a genuine interest and passion in bringing Offaly onto a higher level.

Meanwhile Michael Fennelly's future as Offaly senior hurling manager is still up in the air. Michael Duignan has spoken to the Kilkenny man and will do so again in the coming days. Fennelly has served three years as manager and it has been a roller coaster. They were beaten in the Christy Ring Cup semi-final in his first year but performed much better in 2021 as they won the Ring Cup and were promoted from Division 2A of the National Hurling League.

Things slipped back this year, however. Offaly struggled in Division 1 of the National Hurling League, shipping some bad beatings. That was not a surprise or an issue as they were playing hurling's big guns but they performed poorly in the relegation play off defeat by Antrim while they never truly got going in the Joe McDonagh Cup this year and a closing group defeat by Carlow meant they didn't meet their objective of making the final.

Fennelly's future is in the balance. There is some mood for a regime change in the county but if the Kilkenny man wants another year, it would be a big decision to replace him. His term has been very much disrupted by Covid and this has affected the work that he wanted to do. The former county star has been focussed on improving the systems in Offaly, their strength and conditionining, physicality and skill levels and this is no overnight project.

Time will tell on the County Board's intentions and the fact that no decision has been announced yet is telling. The Board will be trying to be fair to both the team and the management, who have also showed a huge, genuine interest in bringing Offaly on. They will be trying to do the right thing and it is a judgement call for both board officers and the outgoing management.

A similar committee to football is being set up to make recommendations for county senior, U-20 and minor hurling managements. That will consist of Michael Duignan, Colm Cummins, Dervill Dolan and two other people.

Gary Cahill has served as U-20 hurling manager for the past couple of years, putting in a lot of dedicated work and like Declan Kelly, his time here will end some time. Limerick man Leo O'Connor is almost certain to be involved in the county again in 2023. He did trojan work in guiding Offaly to the All-Ireland minor hurling final this year, where they were so unlucky to lose to Tipperary. . It could be as minor hurling manager again or he could be asked to step up to U-20. The possibility of O'Connor being involved in the senior hurling management can't be ruled out, though it is unlikely at the moment.

If Michael Fennelly is given another year as manager, it will be a surprise if there are not additions or changes to his backroom team. The appointment of another Tomas O'Se like heir apparent type coach may loom into view but that is all speculation at the moment and only a handful of people really know what way the land is lying with the senior hurling management.

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