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Tuesday 27 September 2016

Offaly can't slip any more

Duigan fears for the future of hurling in once proud county

Offaly’s All-Ireland winning forward Michael Duignan was at Croke Park to launch this year’s Bord Gáis Energy Legends Tour Series Picture: Sportsfile
Offaly’s All-Ireland winning forward Michael Duignan was at Croke Park to launch this year’s Bord Gáis Energy Legends Tour Series Picture: Sportsfile

From a dark moment in their season when Armageddon wouldn't have been too outlandish a comparison, Offaly have at least managed not to slip further down the icy slope they have struggled upon for a decade.

Which isn't to say that anything significant is expected from them against Galway in Portlaoise on Sunday.

"There's a better slant on it than there was. But it doesn't cover up all the cracks," insists Michael Duignan, part of the last and lamented golden generation of Offaly hurling and as a pundit, a frustrated observer of their decay.

Disaster

"There's probably a good few lads that could be there, that aren't. And maybe that will convince them the year wasn't a total disaster.

"You can't take it for granted that they won't all play well on Sunday. The spirit seems to be good.

"The Offaly forwards are potentially very good on their day. But it's all small steps and trying to rebuild and maybe create an environment that players want to be part of."

Identifying a cause of such a seismic collapse isn't, Duignan insists, nearly as important as turning the ship around.

And he remains encouraged by local enthusiasm.

"You saw the number of Offaly people in Westmeath last week. They outnumbered them two or three to one. So that passion is still there," he points out.

"In fairness, in all the criticism of Offaly, there is a lot being done right. Not everything is being done right. I think we're lacking a bit of leadership at the top and we're lacking ambition.

"But there's a lot of people putting in a lot of work at club level."

"We have to improve at underage level. The Westmeaths and the Carlows and the Laois's have been beating us at underage level.

"To me, it's that area between 14 and 17 where our players aren't developing. It's not so much that they're falling away. It's that they're staying playing at a level.

Duignan continues: "And I think our secondary school system is where we're falling down. The physical and hurling maturity that you should develop at that age is not happening in Offaly."

"A lot of lip service is being paid to it. Schools have open days and they say they offer all sports but they don't really. I have a lad doing the Leaving and I'd say he's had the hurl in school with him 10 times in six years."

There are, Duignan goes on, plenty of Offaly people for whom All-Irelands are the stuff of prehistoric fairytale.

"It's 18 years since we won an All-Ireland senior hurling, unless you were 10 or 12 you wouldn't remember that," he notes.

It's not just a lost generation, it's a couple of generations.

"People talking about that now is no real good. We have to get our act together.

"It's a bit depressing for someone who was involved then but at the same time there's an ambition there to try and get back.

"This is our last-chance saloon because if we slip any further we're in big, big trouble. I don't think we can get back out of it.

"This conversation is going on 10 or 12 years now," Duignan adds, "it's going on since 2002 or 2003 and it's a getting a little bit repetitive. It's time for action."

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