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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 24 May, 2018
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'They start getting attention from the opposite sex and start getting bought pints in pubs'

Offaly boss Stephen Wallace is keen to protect promising 18-year-old Cian Johnson.

TWO GAMES INTO his Offaly senior inter-county career and Cian Johnson is living up to the hype that accompanied him through the underage ranks.

Cian Johnson and Martin O'Connor Cian Johnson in action as a minor in 2016 Source: Tom Beary/INPHO

A prodigious young talent from Ferbane in Offaly, Johnson hasn’t yet started a senior club championship game in the county but he’s looked right at home in the full-forward line during the Faithful’s O’Byrne Cup campaign to date.

Johnson bagged 2-13 during Offaly’s Leinster minor campaign in 2017, where they fell to Louth at the semi-final stage.

Since then he’s made the leap straight into the senior set-up under new Offaly manager Stephen Wallace, and posted tallies of 1-3 and 0-6 against Wexford and Dublin respectively in the pre-season competition.

Johnson’s rise to prominence comes six months after the retirement of prolific forward Niall McNamee, although it’s far too early to draw comparisons between the two.

Naturally, Wallace is keen to avoid heaping any undue pressure on Johnson as he makes the sizeable step-up  in standard and physicality from juvenile to adult football.

“We have to be very careful,” says Wallace. “Cian Johnson, he’s doing his Leaving Cert lads, he’s far from the finished article. He’s a talent, absolutely he’s a talent but every single one of ye can probably name 10 guys who were absolutely unbelievable at 18 or 19 and came to nothing.

“You can’t put a lot of pressure on him, we have to be careful with him, we have to mind him, we have to develop him. And, excuse my language there, but if so called big boys in there (the dressing room) are relying on Cian Johnson to bail them out Offaly are in big fucking trouble.”

Tadhg Morley Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

During his spell in charge of the Kerry juniors, Wallace saw players like Tadhg Morley, Jason Foley, Adrian Spillane, Gavin Crowley and Brendan O’Sullivan advance onto the senior panel, but he’s witnessed plenty of talented youngsters fall by the wayside as well.

“People need to realise that Cian Johnson is walking around with a school uniform on every day of the week. Cian Johnson is a kid. Is he a talent? Absolutely. I think he’s level headed enough that he can keep his feet on the ground.

“​But I’ve seen so many good young talents and they lose the run of themselves, they go mad, they start getting attention from members of the opposite sex etc, and they start getting bought pints in pubs and they come to nothing. We’ve got to mind Cian Johnson.”

Offaly face Westmeath in the O’Byrne Cup semi-final at TEG Cusack Park on Sunday and, while Wallace is satisfied with the opportunity to fight for silverware early on in his reign, he notes he is “three months into a three-year plan.”

Stephen Wallace Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“We have a lot of work to do and the reality is that it’s the O’Byrne Cup,” he says.

“These guys are learning, they’re young, they’re enthusiastic. They’re open to being coached which makes our job a little bit better but, yeah, a lot of work to be done.

“That team is young and they’re developing. (Against Dublin) we kept faith with the same team that played Wexford. We finished with 10 U23s that day.

“These guys are putting their shoulders to the wheel. I’m hearing all this talk, ‘Oh, this guy is injured and this guy is away and all of that’.

“That’s fine, we move on with what we have and while these guys have the jersey they want to keep the jersey. That’s, from a management point of view, very positive.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Kevin O'Brien

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