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Disappointment after injury-time goals end league hopes and not ruling out Ballyhale return

Offaly manager Michael Fennelly says he will make a decision on his club hurling in the summer.

Updated Mar 9th 2020, 9:30 PM

OFFALY HURLING MANAGER Michael Fennelly says he was starting to contemplate his side’s preparations for the Divsion 2A final in the final minutes of their clash with Antrim.

michael-fennelly Offaly senior hurling manager Michael Fennelly. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

It was a more than understandable assumption to make. The Faithful County were six points clear with 75 minutes on the clock against a Saffrons outfit who had already booked their place in the league decider.

At the outset of his first year in charge, Fennelly and his charges had agreed to play for 75 minutes in every game. It seemed like a sizable cushion to depend on.

But a late, late brace from Neil McManus and Conor McCann slashed Offaly’s lead before the whistle. A 2-14 to 0-20 draw denied them a place in the final, while also condemning Offaly to another year in Division 2A.

“Antrim weren’t going through a purple patch or anything so yeah, I probably had one eye on playing next week at 76 minutes,” Fennelly tells The42 24 hours after their shock defeat.

“One of our free-takers, Eoghan Cahill, came off the field and I was thinking, ‘will we have him for next week?’ Time was up at that stage, the six minutes was over.

“It all happened so fast. Two goals in the space of two minutes, and two scrambles really. 

So, it’s very disappointing for the players. They played very well. A good scoreline of 20 points as well. And just the whole thing was over in the space of two minutes, and we’re knocked out of the league.”

Questions have been raised in relation to the added time that was played at Tullamore.

Offaly chairman Michael Duignan and former player Brian Carroll both expressed their frustrations to RTÉ Sport about the time-keeping as the final whistle was sounded two minutes after the allotted six minutes had elapsed.

“Six seems a bit long but I didn’t time it exactly, so you’re just trusting the fourth official and their instinct,” says Fennelly.

“But look it happens. It’s quite subjective and a grey area.”

While Offaly have missed out on promotion, Fennelly feels they have made considerable progress so far in 2020.

They lost just just one game out of their five league outings, while also playing out that draw against Antrim on Sunday.

Their one defeat was inflicted on them by Kerry at the start of February, following a performance that was “well below what we require.”

“The biggest disappointment was down in Tralee against Kerry,” says Fennelly when offering his general overview of his side’s run in the league.

“I’d never seen us play as bad. It was difficult weather conditions, we’d a man sent off as well.

“But with that exception, we put up two really good scores against Wicklow and Mayo. We put up a really good score against Meath and Meath finished very strongly in that game and we only came out as two-point winners.

“We got to see a lot of players through the league and that’s what we looked for.”

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Remarking on other aspects of Offaly’s league campaign, Fennelly says he has noticed that referees have been paying particular attention to hand-passing techniques. This is something that Limerick manager John Kiely has observed recently as well.

“It frustrated me a lot, and this is just from my league campaign with Offaly,” Fennelly begins.

“Referees think players are throwing the ball.

“The game is hard enough to referee without trying to pick out hand-passing and focusing on that. 

“It seems it’s in the first 15-20 minutes that these frees are being blown for.

“The hand movement is so quick that it might look like a throw but you have to be 100% sure that it’s a throw.

I don’t blame the referees, I’m not giving out. There’s someone else focusing on this. It’s just frustrating for the players, the management and the supporters. Especially when you are trying to do things right.”

Fennelly was appointed as the Offaly senior manager last August, just two years after the eight-time All-Ireland winner called time on his career with the Kilkenny hurlers.

His first league game in charge came just one week after winning back-to-back All-Ireland senior club titles with Ballyhale Shamrocks in January.

ballyhale-celebrate-after-the-game-with-the-cup The victorious Ballyhale outfit after retaining their All-Ireland crown this year. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

When asked if he will return to the fold with the Kilkenny kingpins for the upcoming season, Fennelly replied:

“I’m fully managing Offaly at the minute. I’ve stopped [playing for] the club at the minute, and just taking some time out for myself. I don’t know if I’ll be back in playing with the club yet.

“It’s something I’ll decide later on in the year in the summer. But Offaly hurling is my key focus for the moment.”

Offaly’s next competitive outing won’t arrive until June when they commence their Christy Ring Cup campaign.

Despite slumping to the third tier of the All-Ireland senior hurling championship, Fennelly has been encouraged by the application of his players since his arrival.

“There’s a lot of good, honest players on the panel who will do anything for the Offaly jersey, and I think that’s grown. The younger players have shown huge enthusiasm, belief and pride in the jersey so I think things are going in the right direction.”

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