Offaly manager Emmet McDonnell keeps sunny side out despite ups and downs

Sees reasons to be cheerful ahead of Sunday’s championship clash with Longford

Offaly manager Emmet McDonnell is hoping the return of the likes of Brian Darby can boost his team. Photograph: Inpho

Offaly manager Emmet McDonnell is hoping the return of the likes of Brian Darby can boost his team. Photograph: Inpho

Thu, May 15, 2014, 01:00

“Nah, I think morale is good,” says Emmet McDonnell, with a not entirely convincing expression, and a more than subtle hint of the brave face.

It’s what happens when your team hasn’t won a game in its last 10 attempts – between league and championship: it’s all about maintaining some morale, even if it’s only superficial, because without people like McDonnell, where would Offaly football be right now?

He’s in his second season as manager, and after a promising start in 2013 – earning them promotion to Division Three – things have been drifting steadily backwards.

They lost their first game in last year’s Leinster championship to Kildare, and that was followed by a 22-point hammering, to Tyrone, in round one of the qualifiers.

Their 2014 league campaign consisted of one draw, and six defeats – and given they also finished up their 2013 league with a defeat to Limerick (in the Division Four final), that makes it nine defeats and one draw from their last 10 competitive games, between league and championship.

So exactly how good can morale possibly be?

“Look, the league didn’t go well,” admits McDonnell. “But a number of counties are saying that, too. And to be fair to our players, the commitment has been fantastic. You see, even in bigger counties, if things aren’t going well, and players aren’t getting game time, they walk away. We’re lucky, the lads have been with us every single night, even if they have taken a lot of criticism.

“It’s a young team, too. They’re applying themselves as best we can. We’re playing four or five 19-year-olds, and it will take some time. That’s why I think maybe we did struggle, physically, in Division Three.

“We’ve also a few bodies back, now, that we didn’t have during the league. Like Brian Darby, a big player for us. Shane Sullivan is another one, a big defender who we didn’t have during the league.”

There is one reason to be optimistic about Sunday’s Leinster championship opener against Longford, in that Longford are coming off an equally poor league – losing five of their seven games, and also being relegated to Division Four.

“Yeah, they went down, with us,” says McDonnell, still holding up that brave face. “They’ve come down from Division Two over the last two years. Okay, we’ve gone up and down, but I suppose coming from Division Two from Division Four must have dented their confidence. We’d hope so, anyway.”

A maths teacher at St Mary’s in Edenderry (who he guided to the All-Ireland colleges title in 2012, a first for an Offaly school), and at 35 one of the youngest intercounty managers in the game, McDonnell definitely brings a keenness to Offaly football.

His efforts this season haven’t been helped by the loss of dual players such as Shane Dooley, Seán Ryan, Conor Mahon, Colin Egan and Dan Currams – who would be considered hurlers first.

Hurling manager Brian Whelahan has insisted they throw all their weight back in behind the hurlers. In the meantime McDonnell looks towards the likes of Dublin and wonders can Offaly ever compete again.

“It’s incredible, when you think they have players like Conor McHugh, outstanding for their under-21s, and he’s not even on the senior panel.

“They can lose a player like Ciarán Kilkenny too, and bring in a player like Alan Brogan. They’re just a machine at the moment, but what do you do?

“You can talk about bringing in different tiers, especially in football, but people will start to get righteous about it. But maybe it’s something the GAA should look at.

“I’ve heard some people say as well that maybe Laois and Offaly could combine, but I can tell you that didn’t go down too well, either.”

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