Darby keeping Faithful on even keel ahead of key clash with budding Lilies
BRIAN Darby says there was a point during Offaly's spring of discontent when such was the extent of the general disarray which had afflicted the football side that "you didn't know who to even vent your anger at".
The Faithful County were on a slow, sad slide down into Division 4 and their demotion was as inevitable from only a couple of weeks into the league as it was painfully public.
Gerry Cooney's management was being questioned and he had been tagged locally and nationally as the most likely for the first inter-county managerial chop of 2012.
And with the U21s the only glint of positive light against an otherwise dank backdrop (and with an entirely different management team to the seniors), their lack of participation in senior training was driving the numbers down towards intermediate club levels.
"We were down seven or eight bodies every night for a couple of months at the start of the year," Darby, Offaly's captain, explains. "A lot of lads were very frustrated - on both sides.
"To give so much time to the county setup - you're giving it all you can for Offaly and when nothing seems to go right, it's very frustrating."
Darby himself had seen at close quarters the fiasco which beset the county in attempting to hire a manager after his own father, Stephen, withdrew his candidacy in dissatisfaction with the processes of selection -- one of three men to do so before Cooney was anointed.
One of those - Tom Coffey - has returned, however, and as Darby explains somewhat encouragingly ahead of Sunday's daunting clash with Kildare in Portlaoise: "We feel like we've put ourselves into the best position possible going into the game.
"He knows what he's about," Darby explains of his new manager's credentials. "He's very much motivated by being from Offaly. He's a very proud Offaly man. And his style is heavily based on football skills.
"When he took over, we had had a bad league campaign. We knew what was in front of us for the first round of the championship.
"There were no goals set at that stage. All we wanted to do was get back, improve our skills, work on our football and get as right as we could for the first game."
Darby was also made captain, an honour he took in his stride. "It didn't really have an impact on me, to be honest," he insists.
"I'm obviously a very proud Offaly man. I'm very proud to be leading out an Offaly team with good players on Sunday," stressed the Rhode man who will line out at right half-back against Kildare.
He is, however, cautious of making any bold or bright predictions for Sunday. His father manages Kildare club Carbury, and through his attendance of St Mary's, Edenderry, knows the likes of Morgan and Eoghan O'Flatherty well.
"When Kieran McGeeney took over, they were beaten by Wicklow in their first match but you have to admire what they've done since then," Darby insists.
"They've gone from strength to strength in terms of their conditioning over the last four years, they're back in Division 1 next year and they have put in some great performances so far.
"The last time we played Kildare in Leinster in Portlaoise, they blitzed us from the word go," he points out.
"They will be looking down the line towards the latter stages of the Leinster Championship and they definitely won't want to slip up to Offaly."