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Offaly discover that doubles can still be quits

by Sean Moran was published in the Irish Times on Tuesday the 26th of June 2001

It has been, he says, "the worst week's football I've had". Few would quibble with CiarĂ¡n McManus's assessment of an unfortunate eight days.

Last Sunday week, Offaly lost narrowly to Dublin. Six days later they were surprised by Louth in the second round of the All-Ireland qualifier series and to put the tin hat on it, McManus played on the UCD team who were also surprised, by Lucan Sarsfields - coincidentally with Dublin manager Tom Carr on board.

Offaly's fate on Saturday followed a pattern that has seen teams defeated six days before their qualifier match struggling to take advantage of the second chance. There has been consequent speculation that an interval of less than a week is not sufficient for a team to recover from a championship defeat.

"I thought the first half (of the Louth match) was going well," says McManus, "we were staying in touch. But they were very eager and fresh. They hit us hard early on and the hits seemed harder than the week before. Even when we got a goal and were waiting for the kick out, you could tell that they were that bit more fired up."

Michael McNamara trains the Galway hurlers and, in the same capacity, was part of Ger Loughnane's management team in Clare. An expert on team preparation, he has mixed views on the subject of how frequently players can play competitively.

"Physically it is no disadvantage whatsoever," he says. "It's psychologically that the damage is done. A defeat reawakens all the doubts that management teams have spent months trying to dispel. Addressing that mentally takes more than five days."

He agrees that in time the mentality governing championship may change to take account of the new qualifier format, also to be applied to the hurling championship next year.

"In time that will be resolved. The great competitions all around the world provide for teams losing matches along the way. Teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid are conditioned to redress the balance when they lose. But GAA championship in its traditional format never allowed for that.

"Managements just don't talk about championship defeat. They have to dispel that fear so the notion of defeat doesn't enter their vocabulary."

" I don't want to use it as an excuse" says McManus. " We knew we would be in for a difficult match against Louth. But we didn't start thinking about it until late in the week. The first few days were spent trying to forget Dublin and trying to avoid our own people. To be honest it was driving us mad. All the talk was about Dublin and Louth was never mentioned. Even on Saturday night you could see some Offaly supporters weren't that disappointed. It was as if giving Dublin a run was still the main thing."

McNamara says that the public environment can be one of the big influences on a team and is particularly hard to control coming up to big matches. " It can be hard to separate the event from the match. The event is the hype and it's for the supporters, reporters and the public at large. The match is for the players."

At the UCD match on Sunday McManus met team-mate Noel McGuire who had been involved with Sligo's qualifier in Carlow, also on Saturday evening. McGuire remarked that Sligo's build-up had been ideal. In the two weeks between losing to Mayo and travelling to Dr Cullen Park, the team managed to have a full week off to recover, go back to their clubs and relax and a second week to train hard for the qualifier. Louth also had a fortnight off after defeating Tipperary in the first round of the qualifiers. More to the point, it was seven weeks since they had suffered championship defeat against Longford.

Football is now over for McManus until the new league. He is now finished in UCD and says that this is probably his last free summer.

In the meantime he will be hoping for a call-up to the International Rules panel due to travel to Australia this autumn.

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