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Faithful are still Offaly reliant on Bergin and Dooley

HL DIV 1B RELEGATION PLAY-OFF OFFALY v CARLOW (Tullamore, Tomorrow 2.0)

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Shane Dooley

Shane Dooley

SPORTSFILE

Shane Dooley

The TG4 cameras won't be broadcasting live from Bord na Móna O'Connor Park but, in one fundamental respect, this is the most important game of this truncated Allianz Hurling League weekend.

It may be off Broadway but the consequences of defeat are huge for Offaly or Carlow, one of whom will find themselves outside the 12-team elite when Division 1 is redrafted into two groups of six next season.

True, Carlow aren't strangers to the second tier and even Offaly were cast adrift of the top 12 in 2005, when they rebounded as Division 2 winners.

But if the faltering Faithful are demoted tomorrow, you've got to wonder about the longer-term ramifications for a once-proud stronghold that already finds itself in the Joe McDonagh Cup this summer.

Offaly's reputation as hurling's supreme iconoclasts never made it beyond the '90s.

Their senior traumas are no surprise given that their last Leinster minor and U21 titles both came in 2000; their last minor final appearance was '03 while they've lost U21 deciders in '07, '08 and '16. All of which brings us to a key factor here.

Cruised

When Offaly lost the '07 Leinster U21 final, Joe Bergin scored 1-1 and Shane Dooley 0-2 but they couldn't prevent a famous Dublin victory. In the following year's decider, with Dooley then overage, Bergin tallied 2-1 to no avail as Kilkenny cruised home by 12.

Over a decade later, Bergin and Dooley remain utterly pivotal to Offaly hopes of league survival.

The Carlow defence will certainly tread warily after last Sunday's regulation clash at Netwatch Cullen Park, which finished in decisive 4-8 to 1-10 victory for the visitors and condemned the hosts to this play-off.

In horrendous weather conditions, Bergin tallied 2-3 while Dooley (on as a very early sub) was credited with 2-1, despite some question mark over who got the final touch for one of his goals.

Still, that's 4-4 from a total of 4-8. Without this thirtysomething duo to provide a cutting edge, you would fear for Offaly even on home turf.

Both players made belated league returns - Dooley, in fact, has yet to start. But whereas he has entered as a sub in the last three games, Bergin had started those ties and amassed 3-17 (2-1 from play). His eye for goal clearly remains intact.

At the other end, though, Carlow have their own prolific talisman. Marty Kavanagh has scored 0-41 (0-6 from play) in five outings - over 50pc of Carlow's 1-75 total.

Kavanagh was particularly influential early on, when losing to Dublin and famously drawing with Galway. But with everything on the line, Offaly's more obvious goal threat might save them. Just.

ODDS: Offaly 4/7 Draw 9/1 Carlow 7/4

VERDICT: Offaly


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