John Maughan and Offaly jumped at the chance of Croke Park outing

Manager believes risk of injury ahead of championship is one worth taking

Offaly manager John Maughan and Cian Farrell celebrate after the Allianz Football League Division 3 semi-final win over Fermanagh at  Bord na Mona O’Connor Park in  Tullamore. Photograph:  Brian Reilly-Troy/Inpho

Offaly manager John Maughan and Cian Farrell celebrate after the Allianz Football League Division 3 semi-final win over Fermanagh at Bord na Mona O’Connor Park in Tullamore. Photograph: Brian Reilly-Troy/Inpho

 

John Maughan needed all of about three seconds to decide on the prospect of playing a Division 3 final in Croke Park this Saturday. The briefing was any team out in the football championship the following weekend was excused of such duty, only for the Offaly manager that made no sense, not when several of his players had never even been to Croke Park, let alone played there.

So once a similar understanding was reached with opponents Derry, Offaly chairman Michael Duignan took the case to Croke Park, who duly consented: it suited them too, as Saturday’s game will also serve as one of the first pilot events for the return of crowds at GAA headquarters, 2,400 allowed in for what is the first title decider of 2021.

“For a team like Offaly, to play in Croke Park is a big prize, believe it or not,” says Maughan. “I know only five or six our squad have ever played in Croke Park, and the fact is quite a number of them have never been to Croke Park. That’s the reality of the situation, and we’re delighted to have another game.

“Promotion [to Division 2) was the target, that was achieved, but we want to try win the Division 3 title now. We’ll have a full seven days to recover before the championship, which is sufficient in my mind. It wasn’t an issue for Derry either, as they’re not out again for another couple of weeks. And we were certainly delighted when we got word on Sunday morning that the final could go ahead.”

Offaly will begin their Leinster championship campaign against Louth on Sunday week, and for the Maughan any risk of injury this weekend is outweighed by the benefit of playing another match in Croke Park; playing three weekends in succession isn’t of concern either.

“We had already played three consecutive league games on the trot, with no issue, It wasn’t an issue for Derry either, as they’re not out again for another couple of weeks. To be honest I would have liked to have seen all the division finals to be played, if the GAA had afforded another week, though I don’t see why teams need a two-week lead into championship. I appreciate it’s a tightened schedule, given the pandemic, but all players will tell you they want to play games.

“Of course you hope you don’t pick up any injuries, but then again we could have picked them up training in Kilcormac on Sunday morning, which we had scheduled to do otherwise.”

There is a bigger picture around the progress of Offaly football and hurling this season, and Maughan believes the chance to play in Croke Park is another small reward for that; it’s also been 15 years since the last played in Division 2.

Niall McNamee training at Faithful Fields, Offaly’s county facility in Kilcormac. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Niall McNamee training at Faithful Fields, Offaly’s county facility in Kilcormac. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

“Maybe Niall McNamee is the only player left from that era, the rest have never played Division 2. It will be a big step up, we recognise that, but you want to test yourself against top teams, and next year we’ll have Cork and Clare, Roscommon, Galway and Meath now, and that will certainly help bring on what is still a relatively young Offaly team. It’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.”

Maughan is now in his third season with Offaly, 32 years after taking up his first football assignment with Clare (guiding them to an historic Munster title in 1992); his intercounty management journey has since taken him to Mayo (twice), Fermanagh and Roscommon, though there was always some link with Offaly too.

“We know there is a very, very proud tradition in Offaly, hurling and football. In my formative years, when I was a boarder in Carmelite, Moate, a few miles from Tullamore, a lot of my idols were from Offaly, and at that time Walsh Island were the quality side. To see the county fall the last few years wasn’t nice.

“I said before I’d no great intention to get back involved with intercounty football, but when Offaly asked me to go for an interview, and I met a couple of guys I’d been in school with, they painted a picture for me, and because I was aware of the great tradition, that drew me in, and it’s a great place to be.

“The likes of Shane Lowry coming in as well, showing his support, that does mean a lot to the players. It might be a corporate day down the road, but even a gesture of that magnitude, from one of the top golfers in the world, that resonates with the players. If you’re an Offaly player of course you’d react to that, and I’ve noticed the last 12 or 14 months in particular, whereas before you might struggle to get everyone, now they all want to play.

“Things are improving, the chairman and executive have big plans to get more games development officers into schools, and we have a super centre of excellence here at Faithful Fields, something we don’t even have down here in Mayo. You can see the energy being generated around there, it’s very positive, and a good news story. There’s no guarantee of success but promotion is a nice little bounce, given everyone a little boost.”

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