Mulhall keeps believing in Offaly's ability

 

The goalkeeper tells IAN O'RIORDANhe is happy to line out for the county despite the fact he prefers playing outfield

MOST TEAMS would be cursing a 10-week hiatus between league and championship but for the Offaly footballers it might not be long enough. Sunday’s Leinster quarter-final showdown against Kildare is their first day out since the last round of the league on April 8th, and the less said about that campaign the better.

The problem wasn’t so much their dismal run of form which saw them lose six of their seven games and end up bottom of Division Three – and thus relegated to the ground floor for 2013: the problem was losing manager Gerry Cooney in the days afterwards, who never quite settled into his first season in charge.

Tom Coffey was parachuted in to the rescue, and some said not soon enough. Coffey was actually one of the original candidates for the position last autumn, but opted out as the county board appeared to drag their heels. The former Offaly under-21 manager, who enjoyed considerable success with his club Rhode in guiding them to two Leinster finals, appears to have brought some stability to the team, at least in bringing back some of the more experienced players. But still, the feeling is Offaly are starting from scratch all over again.

Whether 10 weeks has been long enough to restore the necessary confidence and self-belief to take on a team like Kildare will be revealed in Portlaoise on Sunday.

What is certain is Kieran McGeeney’s team will start as strong favourites, still buoyant from their Division Two title win on April 29th, and they have also won three of the teams’ last five meetings, most recently in 2009.

“Sure no one is giving us a chance,” says goalkeeper Alan Mulhall, who has has played out the field for Offaly in the past, and admits he would probably prefer to be out the field on Sunday.

“All we’re being told is how strong Kildare are, how amazing they are. All we can do is work on our own performance. We said we’d put the head down during those weeks, but there’s nothing to say we can’t beat Kildare.”

Local derbies like Offaly-Kildare can be notoriously unpredictable, although there is little to suggest Offaly can upset the odds.

Coffey has lured back Niall Smith, Richie Dalton, and Ross Brady, who were absent for much of the league, and there was also talk Ciarán McManus would come back as well, although work commitments didn’t allow that.

However, Offaly are still without star forward Niall McNamee, who remains sidelined with a groin injury, having missed out on the league. His brother Alan has recovered from a calf injury, and Richie Dalton is also passed fit, while dual player Daniel Currams is handed his first start at centre forward, having played for the Offaly hurlers earlier in the season.

There are four championship newcomers in defenders John Moloney, Michael Brazil, Eoin Rigney and Currams – and for Mulhall the old cliché about being happy to get any position rings true as he admits he would be happier playing out the field, like he does with his club, Walsh Island.

“There seems to be a bit of that now,” he explains, “lads playing in goal for their county, then out the field for their club. I would have been on the Offaly panel out the field for a while, but didn’t make the breakthrough. Richie Connor came in then, and decided he wanted to put me in goals. That was four years ago, and I’ve been there ever since.

“I had been sub goalie before, as well. When they were 28 or 29 on the panel I’d be a sub out the field, or if something happened in goal I’d play there as well. That happened once during the under-21 championship. I was playing full forward all year, and next thing the goalkeeper got injured, and I was put in goal. Right after that I was called into the senior panel, and so started as a sub goalie. Then I went out the field as well.

“I’m still playing out the field with the club, and I do prefer to be out the field, but any day you get an Offaly jersey you have to be happy. So I’m happy to be in goals as well.”

Mulhall will need to be at his sharpest on Sunday, given one of the threats he faces is Kildare’s danger man Thomas O’Connor, he of Offaly parentage. But when a team has hit rock bottom the only way is up, not that Offaly have ever minded being the underdogs.

2009: Kildare 1-16 Offaly 1-10 (Leinster 1st round)

2006: Offaly 3-9 Kildare 0-15 (Leinster quarter-final)

2004: Offaly 2-17 Kildare 1-16 (All-Ireland qualifier – Round 1)

2002: Kildare 3-9 Offaly 1-14 (Leinster semi-final replay – after extra-time) 2002: Kildare 1-9 Offaly 1-9 (Leinster semi-final)

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