OFFALY hurling was in serious crisis yesterday as deep divisions developed between manager Michael `Babs' Keating and players incensed by his stinging attack on them after Sunday's Guinness Leinster Hurling Final defeat by Kilkenny.
Keating questioned the attitude of the Offaly players, accused them of not being disappointed to lose, and depicted them as "sheep running around in a heap."
But the players are set to react to his putdowns, and one, midfielder Johnny Pilkington, responded angrily to Keating's public criticism.
He accused Keating of abandoning Offaly's ground hurling, and rubbished the suggestion that the Offaly players were not disappointed after Sunday loss.
And, as public unrest grew in Offaly hurling circles, the three-man management of Keating, Paudge Mulhaire and Pat Moloughney met in emergency session last night. Swift work is now needed to rebuild relationships within the panel and management.
It also emerged yesterday that sharp words were exchanged at an emergency meeting of the players and management on Thursday night last, just three days before the showdown with Kilkenny. It is clear now there has been trouble in the Offaly camp for quite some time.
On Sunday further problems came to light when centre-back Brian Whelehan enaged in a shouting match with Keating during the game.
Offaly play an All-Ireland quarter-final against either Galway or Antrim in three weeks. Enquiries by the Irish Independent yesterday revealed an Offaly hurling scene in turmoil, and Pilkington was adamant the players would take action over Keating's criticisms.
KEATING said in yesterday's Irish Independent: "The players just aren't listening to me. We're like sheep running around in a heap ... Lots of different attitudes needed in the Offaly hurling camp for the next three weeks ... I just wonder am I wasting my time in an Offaly dressing-room ... It's a vein running through this Offaly team of individualism ... The players just sail along. There's not a lot of disappointment in that dressing-room."
This comes after a controversial end to Keating's career as Laois manager, where he also ran down his players in public.
In the build-up to their recent championship clash with Kilkenny, Laois players spoke of reaching the final in the hope of meeting Keating's Offaly there.
"It is wrong for Babs to be talking like that. He's making it look like the Offaly players are idiots and indisciplined. It is stupid and unfair," said Pilkington.
"Babs' track record is that we have won only three competitive games Antrim, Meath, and Wexford, and we were very lucky to beat Wexford.
"Babs is washing his hands of all responsibility. I will stand up and say I didn't play well on Sunday.
"But other things happened. John Troy was taken out of centre-forward and Canice Brennan came really into the game. No-one is sticking up their hand and saying that moving John Troy out of centre-forward was a bad move.
"You can't blame Babs for everything but you can't blame the players for everything either. We're all a team. We go down together and we win together. What he said will only cause trouble.
Pilkington displayed little faith in Keating's training routines. "Ground hurling has been one of our traits, but we haven't' done any in training."
"I was asked recently to compare our former manager Eamonn Cregan to Babs Keating. At this stage of the year, Eamonn would have us doing nothing but hurling."
A few difficult days lie ahead for Offaly. A regular county board meeting will take place tonight. A number of senior players have already discussed the possibility of meeting during this week to issue a statement of their own.
There is still a residue of dissatisfaction at the sacking of former manager John McIntyre after just one year in office. McIntyre, according to senior players, enjoyed the respect of the squad and was on the right road.
McIntyre came within a brilliant Damien Fitzhenry save of glory in the Leinster championship against Wexford.
In May, Keating threatened to resign when Offaly failed to field a team for a challenge game against Tipperary in Clonmel. "You don't get that kind of indiscipline in the traditional counties like Tipperary, Cork, and Kilkenny," he said at the time.
"The players will not take this criticism lying down. The comments are unbelievable. I don't think any manager anywhere has ever made comments of this nature after losing," said Pilkington.
"I would have expected him to say `we missed seven or eight points, we gave away two goals, you can't lose 2-7 and expect to win.'
"And then he could have brought us in and let the lot of us talk about it. There will be a cooling-off period after what Babs said.
"Eamonn Cregan went through bad times with Offaly too. But, he never made cutting remarks about the players.
"It is very hard for players to have the same respect for Babs. We will have to sit down and have a talk.
"Certain players, including myself, will have to take more responsibility. The management will have to stand up too and say `we made an error.' We don't need this kind of stuff from Babs. It's very unprofessional of him."
Keating has previously annoyed Offaly players with remarks on their 1994 All-Ireland triumph.
In a section in his autobiography about how the Tipperary team he managed came a cropper in that championship, he wrote: "You only had to look at the Offaly-Limerick final in 1994 to realise it wouldn't have been too hard to win."