UíbhFhailí.com header image

[ Back to Articles Index ]

Babs vents frustration with his Offaly team

by Vincent Hogan was published in the Irish Independent on Monday the 6th of July 1998

A GAME that took its colour from the dish-water sky. We got more brimstone than brio, more knuckle than wrist in Croke Park.

Two uncomfortable teams flogging themselves against God's air-conditioning. Kilkenny's 55th Leinster crown was delivered amidst much shuffling and head-scratching.

Hurling in the province looks clumsy and neurotic this grey summer. B-movie stuff. A test of stubbornness, not ambition.

Willie O'Connor knows a thin day when he sees one. "Clare definitely won't be shaking in their boots," he murmurs. "Or anybody in Munster."

The O'Keeffe Cup sits on a table. It's bigger than a filing cabinet. Every now and then someone takes the lid off and wears it as a hat. But no-one's paying much heed in here. Too many funnel-clouds in the distance.

Charlie Carter shouts out: "That's a better f... g feeling than last year lads," and a faint hum of agreement rumbles through the room.

Plastic bottles of orange are handed around and team-manager, Kevin Fennelly, invites his players to savour their evening. "Have a few drinks and enjoy yourselves tonight lads," he bellows. "After that, it's back to basics."

You can trace the grain of victory in their faces. Like a genie let out of the bottle, DJ Carey has settled the contest. Two 21-yard frees, two goals. One a masterpiece, the other a trick of chance. DJ rescued from the margins.

Kilkenny hurled for 48 minutes with Charlie Carter their only man to register a score. Still, Charlie was moving like a mystic. By the time Andy Comerford stirred an umpire, Carter's tally was 1-4. Fluid as a panther, he alone kept Kilkenny above the water-mark.

Offaly could have been throwing foxy waves by then but they were shooting like men on a rowing boat in choppy water. Eleven wides to Kilkenny's three. `Babs' Keating watched with hands on hips, his gait that of the farmer whose sheep-dog is chasing bumblebees.

He stands in his socks now outside a silent dressing-room. `Babs' anger is packed like high explosive. Journalists stoke his fire, then step back as the flames climb. `Babs' voice is low but his temper licks the ceiling.

"Couldn't be described as Leinster Senior Championship hurling," he murmurs. "And I've no problem in saying that. My job is to teach and show them what to do. But it appears it's falling on deaf ears."

Keating picks his words slowly, yet the language comes with a hissing sound. "The players just aren't listening to me," he snaps. "We're like sheep running around in a heap."

"We're playing a game that suits the backs. To me, if you're serious about winning Championship games, you open it up."

Offaly are still in the Championship but, just now, that seems a dubious blessing. `Babs' sounds like he feels the `back-door' would be best left bolted if these are the impulses of his team. He's got three weeks to summon the cavalry.

"Lot of different attitudes needed in the Offaly hurling camp for the next three weeks," he argues. "I hate saying that in the middle of July. These are doubts and phrases I used last October/November when I came to Offaly. Didn't think I'd be repeating them in July.

"I feel awful disappointed with the application of the stick and quality of the play. All of the negatives out there involve areas I've gone over and over again. I just wonder am I wasting my time in an Offaly dressing-room.

"You'd like to think you have something to contribute but, equally, you'd like to think you'd be listened to. I'm not being listened to. It's a vein running through this Offaly team of individualism, of not thinking of their colleagues, not playing for their colleagues. The players just sail along. There's not a lot of disappointment in that dressing-room. They just take every day as it comes."

A journalist asks "Where to now 'Babs'?"

He scuffs his feet and groans. "We pray to God that we get a good draw on Monday week and, hopefully, meet Antrim. Then we can get back into the same position as the rest of them.

"Can I go and put my shoes on now lads?"

As ever, Keating's words have the ping of rifle fire. Whether they will generate more ire in the Antrim or Offaly dressing-rooms, though, is a moot point. Suffice to say, he has not lost his flair for provocation.

Without the inscrutable Brian Whelahan (who engaged his manager in a shouting match mid-way through the second period), Offaly might have been embarrassed yesterday. But then, without Carter, Kilkenny wouldn't exactly have smelt of roses either.

This was stolid, stop-start hurling where even thoroughbreds like DJ and Johnny Dooley found themselves penalised for over-carrying. DJ too many steps? Yep. That kind of day where the grey tint of dusk seemed upon us from early morning.

But Kilkenny know there are no bonuses for artistic impression in the Championship. More than that, they understand how much can change as summer trembles on the edge of autumn. Clare certainties for McCarthy?

Don't bet on it.

"I've always had the feeling that we'd win Leinster," grins Fennelly. "But it's a relief 'cos only for Charlie Carter we could have been very sad men coming into this dressing-room at half-time. I'm trying to fight off ye fellas, trying to prove ye fellas wrong. We all have our days. I had my day today.

"I'm happy to go back to Kilkenny and tell a few fellas who told me I was wrong that, at least I've won a Leinster. But, if I don't win the All-Ireland, they'll be very fast telling me back. We're probably fourth now, behind Galway, Clare and Waterford. But, if they decide to beat each other, it might let us through to win the All-Ireland ... "

Face it. Hurling has known stranger twists.

[ Back to Articles Index ]