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Wednesday 16 October 2019

Stagnation once again as Offaly try to avoid dropping to new low

NEW BOSS: Can Joachim Kelly be stop-gap saviour? Photo: Barry Cregg/Sportsfile
NEW BOSS: Can Joachim Kelly be stop-gap saviour? Photo: Barry Cregg/Sportsfile

Twenty-one years have passed since Offaly county board made a very big and bold move: they found a new hurling manager in the height of summer.

Babs Keating resigned in the face of mounting player unrest over his words of public rebuke after a Leinster final defeat. Enter a man of mystery by the name of Bond, Michael Bond. '007' with a whistle . . .

Fast-forward to last Monday, and a different hierarchy in the same board has done something similar.

They've found a new boss mid-championship - stalwart local hero Joachim Kelly, tasked with becoming a stop-gap saviour. A musical hotseat link to old glories? Forget it; that is where the similarities end.

In circumstances veering from unbelievable to bizarre and unprecedented, Offaly won the All-Ireland in 1998. Whereas their hurling fate in recent months (relegation beyond the league's top dozen) and weeks (back-to-back beatings in the Joe McDonagh Cup) is not particularly unbelievable, or bizarre, or unprecedented.

But you could describe their fall from grace - crowned by a potential nosedive into the third tier championship, the Christy Ring Cup - as grotesque.

For Offaly, the GUBU chickens are coming home to roost and you can't blame Kevin Martin or any of his short-lived predecessors; certainly not to the extent that they should be scapegoated for a crisis decades in the making.

The cyclical nature of sporting success cannot be denied, especially for a county like Offaly whose population is low (78,003, placing it 24th out of 32), whose GAA demographic is divided, and who can no longer rely on turf and electricity as bountiful sources of local employment.

In truth, Offaly may never again produce a generation like Brian Whelahan, Johnny Dooley and John Troy (to name just three) all arriving in a simultaneous eruption of genius. But these special players don't happen by chance either.

It requires painstaking cultivation of youth, via schools and clubs and now development squads too. Proper resourcing. Serious coaching. Joined-up thinking. Innovation.

Instead, stagnation has been a recurring theme in Offaly - not just on the field - and ultimately the buck must stop with the county board executive and the people who elect them.

Vacuum

In fairness, they can boast facilities to eclipse any of their neighbours - in O'Connor Park and their 'Faithful Fields' centre of excellence just outside Kilcormac. But no amount of bricks and mortar can provide the foundations for hurling - and football - to flourish in a vacuum.

In recent times, Offaly GAA chiefs appear to have been stumbling from one crisis to another.

Mid-season management changes, in both codes, have become a cliché. We won't rehash the Offaly hurling review/implementation committee row, except to ask why did its members feel compelled to resign en masse? Tommy Byrne's second spell in the Offaly chair has been mired in various controversies, the managerial axing of Martin being but the latest.

Back in July '98, then Offaly chairman Brendan Ward revealed how Keating had offered his resignation and he had accepted it.

"Babs did the right thing but this might be just the thing to get our team playing," he added, hopefully.

That hope has long extinguished. Never mind Bond . . . not even '007' could save Offaly hurling right now.

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