It's 'do or die' time for Offaly hurlers

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john.ocallaghan

It has all come down to this. 12 months after being relegated out of the Leinster championship and banished to the Joe McDonagh cup, Offaly are now 70 minutes away from the unthinkable and slipping even further down the ladder and into the third tier of hurling.

After a disastrous year that has already seen them relegated to Division Two in the league, they now travel to Tralee on Saturday with everything on the line.

It is a winner stays up scenario. Offaly are bottom with no points with Kerry second bottom on two points. With the bottom team relegated to the Christy Ring cup, a win for Offaly would save them as they would draw level with Kerry and have a head to head advantage over them but a win or a draw for the Kingdom, who will be on home soil, will send Offaly packing.

The slide has been steep. Players, coaches, strength and conditioning coaches and most recently managers have all been shaken up but the results have remained the same.

Joachim Kelly came in as interim manager before the most recent defeat to Antrim and replaced Kevin Martin and Kelly will be hoping that the extra few weeks he has had with the squad will stand to them as they face into arguably the biggest game in the history of Offaly hurling.

Kerry still have a lot to play for themselves. They still have an outside chance of making the Joe McDonagh Cup final, which is crazy in a way given they could be relegated just as easily.

Laois are already in the final while at the moment Westmeath and Antrim have four points while Kerry have two.

Wins for Laois and Kerry will leave Antrim, Westmeath and Kerry all on four points with score difference determining who goes through to the final to play Laois.

The top end of the table is of no interest to Offaly who have a very simple remit. Their fate is in their own hands, which after a hugely disappointing and poor year on the field, is a positive. They are not relying on anyone else to do them a favour and have 70 minutes to save their own skin.

Kerry shipped a heavy beating at the hands of Laois in Tralee on Saturday last but they will be licking their lips at the thoughts of a wounded Offaly coming to town.

This is an Offaly team lacking confidence. A team that has only won one game in nine competitive outings in 2019.

Joachim Kelly has spoken about trying to boost the players in recent weeks and there is no doubt that the break week last weekend will have helped him get more time on the training field and working with the players.

Offaly will be without the suspended Conor Mahon who was sent off against Antrim while Colin Egan picked up a nasty ankle injury in the same game and will be out of action for at least two months.

Oisin Kelly and Joe Bergin have been carrying the scoring can for the Offaly men up front and if they can get Kelly on the ball close to goals, Offaly will be on to a winner. Kelly’s form has been one of the few positives from 2019 and his eye for goal is something the Kerry management will be trying to curtail.

Kerry are managed by former St Rynagh’s manager Fintan O’Connor and he will have a decent knowledge of the Offaly players having got St Rynagh’s to the County final a few years back.

Offaly have the ability to win the game and hold on to their Joe McDonagh cup status but their form and head space are worries.

If Offaly were to get off to a bad start, will have they have the mental energy to dig in and turn things around? Equally, if Offaly were to get ahead and open up a cushion, can they show a ruthless streak and put a team away like Laois did to Kerry last weekend.

Offaly had Antrim on the ropes in the opening half two weeks back but let them back into the game when they should have been putting the foot on the throttle.

The game throws in at 3pm in Austin Stack park in Tralee on Saturday and while a big Offaly following is hoped for, the game will also be streamed live on the GAA.ie website.

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