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A day to show what we're made of

by Babs Keating was published in the Sunday Times on Sunday the 5th of July 1998

Offaly's patchy build-up leaves us with much to prove against Kilkenny

FOR THE last three weeks in Offaly we've been trying to right the wrongs of the last day. It was a huge disappointment to us the way we played for 50 minutes against Wexford. We had trained very well but we didn't translate it into a performance on match day and we've been trying to figure out why.

We felt we were good enough to beat Wexford, but there was no sense of complacency. On the day Wexford fans outnumbered ours by three to one and, with all the hype about 1798, Wexford were on a high. But what undermined our performance was a dismal lack of concentration. Without concentration it becomes hard to do even the simple things right.

At the end of the day I think the changes we made got us out of trouble. Michael Duignan won a few balls when he went out to centre-field and so did Paudie Mulhare and John Ryan in the forwards when they came on. On top of the hurling that Hubert Rigney, Martin Hanamy and Kevin Martin did it was enough to get us through.

Things have been mixed since. Six of our senior panel played for the Offaly under-21s against Kilkenny 10 days ago. Kilkenny beat them out the gate and in our team only Barry Whelehan emerged with any credibility. Granted, most of them were playing out of position and there is a history of senior players not standing out in under-21 competition, but at the same time we expected more.

Between the preparation for that under-21 fixture and injuries, a lot of the training has been less than satisfactory. Some nights we only had 9-a-side matches and there were only three nights when we had a full panel at training.

For one reason or another we've made a few changes to the team. We had to do something with centre-field after the last day. Gary Hanniffy didn't do enough in the under-21 match to convince us that he's ready for senior hurling at the moment. Duignan is starting there today to give us a bit of strength.

Mark Hand got himself suspended so we had to find a new centre-forward. Paudie Mulhare would have been in contention but for a bad hamstring and Daithi Regan might have been if injury and illness hadn't cost him a couple of weeks' training. So we've moved John Troy out. For a couple of years it looked as if Troy wasn't fit enough to play centre-forward, but he's been training well and we were left with no option but to go for a player who is a proven centre-forward.

People will say that we're taking a risk playing Barry Whelehan at corner-back again after the last day, but I can safely say that if we're beaten today it won't be Barry Whelehan that will have cost us the match.

Kilkenny were there for the taking against Laois - which was an awful bad thing for us. We'd have been better off if Kilkenny had put in another performance like they did against Dublin. They have the advantage of a middling performance to work up from now, something similar to what the League final gave Waterford before they played Tipperary in the championship.

Kilkenny are capable of beating anybody in the country when they're allowed play the game they want. Because of the size of their forward line, Kevin Fennelly realises that he needs a big man like Johnny Dooley at centre-forward to make things happen. If he can do his job they have players to finish any team off.

The key to the game is will D J Carey, Charlie Carter and P J Delaney get enough possession and take us on or will our backs grit their teeth and stop them getting the ball? We will be expecting better performances from numbers 8 to 15 on our team and we know there are a few players who must prove something not just to themselves but to Offaly hurling people as well. On that basis we are hopeful.

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