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Threat of relegation hangs over Dublin and Offaly ahead of Leinster hurling campaign

It’s likely the losers of their championship meeting will be competing in the second tier next season.

A VERY REAL threat of relegation hangs like a shadow over Dublin and Offaly as the Leinster SHC begins next weekend.

ChrisCrummy and Thomas Geraghty Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With just three counties from the province making it through to the All-Ireland series, it would be a major surprise at this stage if Galway, Kilkenny and Wexford didn’t advance from Leinster.

And unless Kerry lift the Joe McDonagh Cup, which appears unlikely, Leinster’s bottom team faces automatic relegation to the second tier.

It means the 3 June meeting between the Dubs and Offaly at Parnell Park could well be a relegation decider.

Offaly host Galway in the opener on Saturday in Tullamore, while Dublin face Kilkenny in Donnycarney, but it’s hard to look past their Round 4 meeting as the key tie of their respective summers.

“We don’t have anything to lose,” says Offaly midfielder David King. “We’ll go out and look for performances. Whatever will be, will be at the end of the day.

“We’re just focused on our first game and after that we’ll focus on the next game. We won’t worry too much about relegation at the moment.

“We’ll sit down this weekend and look at all the teams we’re playing and then after that we’ll focus completely on Galway for the first week. We’ll change our attention to Kilkenny then the following week and take it on a game-by-game basis from there.

“I see it as a huge opportunity for us to actually prove something in championship for the first time in a while. We’d have confidence going in after we kept with Kilkenny, the national league champions, for so long. They got the couple of points in the last couple of minutes, but that will give us confidence going into these few games.”

David King David King was speaking at the Leinster SHC launch at McKee Barracks Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

There’s a renewed sense of optimism in Offaly since double All-Ireland winner Kevin Martin took charge at the beginning of the season.

A stirring opening round win over Dublin at Croke Park – Offaly’s first victory there since 2005 – was a sign of the steady progress they’ve made under the Tullamore man.

“The win against Dublin was a key point. We had focused on that leading up to the league as something we really needed to grasp and kick on going into the league. It was great encouragement for lads.”

Several veterans have returned to the fold, while Offaly are playing a more attractive brand of hurling and the county appears to be rowing in behind the players.

“It’s great to have them back. For different reasons the last couple of years they haven’t been able to come in. Colin Egan had a child, Dan Currams and Conor Mahon are just coming back in this year again. It’s great to have these experienced heads coming back in, bringing on younger lads and giving nuggets of information.

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“I don’t want to be saying anything negative towards other managers about set-ups or anything like that, but it is huge that Kevin has given us confidence to go out and express ourselves as players and instil confidence in us whatever way we set-up.

Cathal Mannion and David King Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I don’t think we’re overly focusing too much on how we’re setting up, whereas last year we had two sweepers against Waterford and Galway. We’re going more orthodox this year which is a bit of a change.

“Kevin demanded a lot of himself when he was playing and that’s what he’s after bringing to management. He demands a lot of us and he expects a lot of us. We’ll hopefully be able to get that when we’re going into championship.”

They lost to eventual league champions Kilkenny by two points in the quarter-final, a result that will give King and his team-mates plenty of confidence heading into the championship.

And for the first time this year, Offaly have been operating out of a training base – the Faithful Fields in Kilcormac.

“The mood is good because we actually have a base this year,” explains King.

“The Faithful Fields in Kilcormac – we’ve four new pitches, the gym, the astroturf as a base for us for the first time ever. Finally, we have an actual base.

“You see the U17s coming in training before us, the camogies were training at the weekend, you’d see a huge base of Offaly hurling and camogie now so it’s great encouragement to see.

“You get a sense of the atmosphere around the county and that’s a huge difference this year.”

King is just 25, but he’s witnessed plenty of dark days as an Offaly player. Still, he never considered walking away from the county scene.

“I just love the game, I suppose. This is my life now. When I was young growing up, all I ever wanted to do was play for Offaly. When games go against you, you don’t think, ‘I’m not going to go in this year because of that.’

“Personally, I never had to think long and hard about going back in because it’s such a great honour to be involved with Offaly.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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