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Carlow rising is big news, Offaly falling is bigger

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VETERAN: Offaly’s Shane Dooley after the game. Pic: Sportsfile

VETERAN: Offaly’s Shane Dooley after the game. Pic: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

VETERAN: Offaly’s Shane Dooley after the game. Pic: Sportsfile

The giddiness of life as a Carlow hurler this week, walking with a pep in the step through his town or village. The grimness of an Offaly hurler, hiding away from another onslaught of negative headlines.

Kevin Martin touched on the latter as he tried to make sense of Sunday's collapse, the latest in a sequence of all-too-familiar disasters in the land of the faltering Faithful.

"We need people to get behind them now more than ever," he said. "To the public, if you see the lads out on the street, just talk to them as if it were any other time. They didn't go out there to lose."

The Offaly manager was being quizzed in a quiet ante-room off the home dressing-room as a gale howled outside. That wind had wreaked havoc with their Allianz League Division 1B relegation play-off but, with an 11-point lead to protect, that could be no excuse for Offaly's panic-stricken efforts once Carlow plundered two early second half goals.

Eclipsed

The match was discussed on RTÉ's League Sunday that night, two opposing stories fighting for air time. There was high praise for Carlow's consistently upward graph under Colm Bonnar (they've won the Christy Ring and Joe McDonagh Cups and now preserved top-tier league status). Yet the big news of this Carlow rising was still eclipsed by the bigger news of Offaly's stark fall.

Donal Óg Cusack's claim about Offaly's "biggest influencers" in recent years being "voices of regression" may have generated a vitriolic Twitter response from, well, certain influencers ... but his point about Offaly's questionable status as a traditional county, with the stats to back it up, was still well made.

In effect, Offaly were a "traditional" (ie, successful) county for just two decades. That history explains why their demotion makes the bigger news.

And yet the attendance in Tullamore was just 888; the crowd reaction would suggest the number from Carlow was more than 444, or maybe they simply had more reason to be vocal. The salient point, though, that is Offaly hurling is mired in apathy right now.

As Martin maintained, his players are making huge sacrifices - but supporters have fallen out of love with their county team to a point where they'd rather stay at home and watch the rugby. You have more people offering an opinion on who is to blame than will watch the team.

The current boss may have some questions to answer, true; but you can't blame the latest in a long line of managers who have persistently fallen miles short of the gold standard set in the 1980s and '90s.

Various county board hierarchies bear a bigger responsibility because they are the ultimate body responsible for the health of Offaly GAA. Not alone are results (in both codes) quite damning but the board stands indicted for the utter mess that led to Offaly's hurling review/implementation committee, chaired by Liam Hogan, resigning in "total frustration" two summers ago.

Player development is arguably the most fundamental responsibility of any county board - albeit it can't happen in a vacuum and/or if the clubs and schools aren't on board.

End-Game

Clearly, something has gone seriously amiss in Offaly and it's a recurring theme that the hurlers who bail them out - or nearly do - are approaching the end game. Shane Dooley is 32 and Joe Bergin is also the wrong side of 30; if you removed Dooley's 0-3 from play and Bergin's 1-7 from Sunday's overall tally, you're left with 0-6.

A week earlier, this veteran duo scored 4-4 in their regulation group win over Carlow - the rest of the team managed 0-4.

What happens when Dooley and Bergin hang up their inter-county hurls?


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