'They have been in a box this past three years and have been afraid to express themselves'

Kevin Martin is confident he has Offaly moving in the right direction after they fell just short against Kilkenny.

KEVIN MARTIN WAS in good spirits after Offaly’s narrow 0-24 to 1-19 Division 1 hurling league quarter-final defeat to Kilkenny on Monday.

Kevin Martin and Brian Cody Kevin Martin and Brian Cody shake hands after the game James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

His team pushed Kilkenny all the way and found themselves on level terms in the 70th minute, before TJ Reid slotted over a contentious free and Walter Walsh added the insurance score in injury-time to see the Cats home.

Offaly’s last win over Kilkenny was way back in the 1998 All-Ireland final, when Martin himself was a player. They’ve shipped plenty of heavy defeats to the Cats in the intervening 20 years, but that was never on the cards today.

“We’d hope to think we are going in the right direction,” the two-time All-Ireland winner said after the game.

“I suppose Galway and Limerick beat us well enough in the league – but we were trying out different players and stuff. We are trying to get a settled team and we are going in the right direction.

“We are not going to jump ahead of ourselves. There is still a lot of hurling left, a lot of stuff to be done, a lot of work to be done on the field, a lot of coaching to be done. A few things have to be changed to tweak lads’ games, and that will make a good bit of difference as well so we are happy with where we are.”

Colin Egan, Shane Kinsella, Tom Spain and Pat Camon with Richie Leahy Colin Egan, Shane Kinsella, Tom Spain and Pat Camon track Richie Leahy James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

It was only the fine displays of Reid and Walsh, who clipped over 0-17 between them, that prevented the hosts from booking an unlikely semi-final appearance against the winners of Wexford and Galway.

One of the biggest pluses of Martin’s early reign is the fact the best hurlers in Offaly are part of the county panel.

That experience told against the Cats, particularly in the second-half when Kilkenny turned the screw and transformed a three-point half-time deficit to a three-point lead by the 53rd minute.

Offaly had ball winners all over the forward line, with Shane Dooley, Joe Bergin and Conor Mahon extremely influential up front, while Tom Spain and Ben Conneely were defensively very solid.

“We’re training hard and they’re putting in the effort, they’re starting to get there, they’re starting to believe in their hurling so we’re heading in the right direction. Pity we didn’t win the game but that’s hurling.

Ben Conneely reacts at the final whistle Offaly's Ben Conneely reacts at the final whistle James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“In fairness, Dooley got a couple of savage points, Joe Bergin got a savage point, the work rate was really up. They didn’t drop the head so they showed a bit of character which is great to see back in them. All very promising.”

Offaly reached a low ebb last summer when then-manager Kevin Ryan put out a double-sweeper system in their qualifier tie against Waterford. The Déise coasted to a 24-point victory and left dismayed hurling supporters in the Faithful County questioning the direction of the team.

But Martin’s first competitive game in charge got off to a flyer last January when Offaly handed out a 13-point beating to Dublin in Croke Park. While there have been some mixed results in Division 1B since then, it’s clear they’re on the right path.

Martin and his management team have been working hard on the mentality of the players, after a few tough years.

“I suppose half of the time that’s why you have to talk to players to get into their heads anyway to see what way they are,” he said.

“In fairness, we do a lot of talking to the guys one to one and you’d always be talking to them in training, trying to build them up – just trying to get them to release themselves so they are well able to hurl.

“Because they have been in a box this past three years, and they have been afraid to express themselves. Now they are just starting to do it, and it’s great to see it.

“Like, confidence breeds confidence and they are starting to get confident in their own game now and hopefully it’s onwards and upwards.”

John Donnelly and Oisin Kelly John Donnelly tackles Oisin Kelly James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

This was one of the few hurling fixtures to take place over the weekend, but the Offaly boss was pleased the game went ahead on Bank Holiday Monday and said no players had issues getting time off work.

“Bank Holiday weekend, everyone was off anyway. There were no qualms there. I’m delighted it went ahead.

“We were after resting a few lads last weekend for the Antrim game. If it didn’t go ahead this weekend they wouldn’t have got the bit of work last week and it was going to mess it up.

“I know they’re under pressure to leave the month of April free, which they’re not going to have now for clubs. When players get ready for a game, they get psyched up for it, they do the special routines to get ready for a game during the week and if it doesn’t go ahead then they’re disappointed. I’m delighted it went ahead.

“I suppose it worked out well for both teams. The pitch was in good enough nick today as well. No complaints. Gave a good effort but just fell short. Moving in the right direction.”

The42 is on Instagram! Tap the button below on your phone to follow us!

Kilkenny see off spirited Offaly with two late scores to book hurling league semi-final

3 red cards, 2 black cards and a late equaliser – Offaly and Sligo finish level in relegation dogfight

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel