PREVIEW: Offaly and Antrim's qualifier records almost identical over the last decade
Offaly notoriously have a poor record in the All-Ireland qualifers series but they face opponents in Antrim who have a remarkably similar and equally uninspiring history in the competition.
Antrim have played 13 games in the qualifers since 2008, while Offaly have played on 15 occasions in the same period. Aside from 2008 when Antrim competed in the Tommy Murphy Cup, the teams have invariably dropped into the qualifiers at the same stage over the last decade.
Of their 13 games, Antrim have won 4 and lost 9, although one of those defeats came after a replay with Kildare in 2010. Offaly have won five of their 15 games in the qualifiers since 2008, losing 10.
Antrim's best run came in 2011 when they collected wins over Westmeath and Carlow before going out to Down, although the furthest they've been in the qualifiers was round 4 when they entered the series at that stage having reached the Ulster final in 2009. They went out in that Round 4 tie to Kerry, losing by just five points to the eventual All-Ireland champions of that year.
Offaly's best run in the qualifiers came in 2010 when they collected wins against Clare and Waterford before going out to Down in Round 3 on a 1-12 to 1-10 scoreline. They also pulled off a bit of a shock with an eight-point win in round one of the qualifiers against Monaghan the following year.
In more recent years, Offaly have a slightly better record with two wins in their last three Round 1 matches, including victories against London in 2016 and Waterford in 2015. They lost to Cavan in the first round last year although they put in an encouraging display against the then Division 1 outfit, losing out on a 1-17 to 0-16 socreline in Tullamore.
Antrim have lost two of their last three Round 1 matches, although their sole win in that period came against a decent Laois team in 2015. They lost to Sligo and Limerick in 2017 and 2016 respectively.
The teams face into this weekend's game against vastly different backdrops, but despite Antrim's more settled camp, they arrive on the back of a fairly heavy defeat to Down in the Ulster Championship. They were beaten on a 1-18 to 0-14 scoreline.
Antrim finished third in their Division 4 League campaign with four wins recorded against London, Limerick, Leitrim and Waterford, a draw with Wicklow and a defeat against high-flying Carlow. Offaly's most recent form with the Ulster outfit came in Division 3 of the 2017 Allianz League when the Faithful raced to an easy 0-23 to 1-7 win in O'Connor Park.
However, Offaly enter the fray on Saturday on the back of a difficult period which culminated in the sacking of manager Stephen Wallace amid significant fall-out surrounding their Leinster Championship defeat to Wicklow in May. Putting the management issue aside, that defeat was a low ebb for all involved, considering Wicklow had just finished bottom of Division 4 in the Allianz Football League.
Despite last year's sizeable league victory for Offaly over Saturday's opponents, the intervening period has been unkind to the Faithful set-up. The loss of Niall McNamee to retirement has left a scoring void while the Stephen Wallace situation and its aftermath left the panel in disarray.
A three-week preparation time is far from ideal, not least due to the re-integration of a number of past players to the fold, including Brian Darby, Johnny Moloney and Eoin Rigney. A number of players returning from injury will be a boost and it's clear that Saturday is the first step on a long road to redemption for the embattled Offaly set-up.
The interim management team of Paul Rouse, Alan McNamee, Stephen Darby and John Rouse are all proud Offaly men and have reported huge buy-in from the squad this week, and the hope among fans is that the players will hit the ground running in O'Connor Park on Saturday evening with a point to prove.
The fact that Antrim have lost two winnable games against Sligo and Limerick in the qualifiers in the last two years is a plus and a buzzed up Offaly team can take advantage of that.
Verdict: Offaly to win by two
Offaly's tie against Antrim takes place at Bord na Mona O'Connor Park at 6pm on Saturday, June 9.
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