'It's been painful to look at for the last few years. I think I can improve it' - taking charge of Offaly

New Faithful hurling boss Kevin Martin has a tough task ahead of him.

ON THE FACE of it, the Offaly managerial position isn’t the most attractive job in hurling.

Offaly team huddle Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The Faithful are ranked as 500-1 outsiders to win the All-Ireland and only avoided a Division 1B relegation play-off last year on scoring difference.

Having watched Offaly’s fortunes take a nose-dive in the last decade, a major source of motivation for Kevin Martin to take the job was helping lift the county out of its decline.

“I suppose we’re all guilty of giving out about our own county team – and I would have been at it myself the last couple of years,” he says. “And people were saying, ‘Well, sure go do something about it.’ Even my own family and that.

“Of course it’s always an honour to train your own county team anyway. A lot of work has to be done but, in fairness to the players, they’re after buying into it now so far and hopefully, fingers crossed, things will look up.

“I’m going to try and improve things and that’s basically why I’m gone in. It’s been painful to look at for the last few years. I don’t believe we’re as bad as the last few years, so I think I can improve it, at least I can try improve it anyway.”

Kevin Martin/Henry Shefflin 11/7/1999 Offaly's Kevin Martin beats Henry Shefflin to the ball in 1999 Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Martin, a double All-Ireland winner and two-time All-Star with Offaly in the 1990s, says it will take time to rebuild the confidence of his players on the back of several heavy defeats in recent times.

“That’s one of the major things,” he says. “We’re after getting a few thrashings over the last couple of years - and especially last year.

“I mean, I believe myself they’re not as bad as they’ve shown the last couple of years. It’s like everything else, it’s all about confidence so you’ve to build their confidence and get them going again. But, you know, mentally it’s half the battle. So we’ll have to work on that big time.”

James Dempsey has opted out of the panel but the former Westmeath boss has enticed experienced players Dan Currams, Conor Mahon, Colin Egan and Derek Molloy back into the set-up.

Bord na Móna Leinster GAA Series Launch Kevin Martin was speaking at the Bord na Móna Leinster GAA Series Launch Source: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

Martin hasn’t been handed a fixed term in charge of the county team and says his position will be reviewed after the 2018 campaign.

“When you’re changing managers that often, players would be getting sick of it as well. They want a bit of consistency and they want a bit of stability. Listen, I’ve been asked this question, ‘How long have you got?’

“We haven’t really thrashed it out with the county board, so we’ll see how this year goes. You know, maybe the players mightn’t want me after this year, maybe they will, maybe the county board won’t, maybe I won’t want to stay here myself. We’ll have to see.

“So, we’re going to try and work as hard as we can to improve the thing. That’s all we can do at the minute.”

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Sean Gardiner dejected at the end of the game Sean Gardiner dejected after Galway's Leinster semi-final win last summer Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Offaly, who open up their Walsh Cup campaign against Westmeath in Birr on Saturday, says a top three finish in the Leinster championship is the target this summer.

Realistically, Martin’s side need to finish above Dublin and Wexford to extend their championship past the first week of June. If they finish bottom of the five-team group and any team other than Kerry win the Joe McDonagh Cup, Offaly will drop down to the second tier of the All-Ireland SHC.

“If you finish at the bottom of the top tier you’re going to be finished hurling, and the top two in the second division will still be hurling. So it’s kind of crazy really, in a way. It’s a very early finish. I think we’ve a bye in the last game, so we’ll know our fate by (early June).

“It’s going to be competitive, and it’s going to be very, very hard. You’ve Davy (Fitzgerald) in with Wexford, the guys (Pat Gilroy and Anthony Cunningham) in with Dublin, Galway are All-Ireland champions, Kilkenny are always there or thereabouts. So, our work is cut out for us really, but we’re going to have to have a lot of luck – and a lot of work.”

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