Offaly manager Michael Fennelly is congratulated by Offaly GAA chairman Michael Duignan after the Christy Ring Cup Final match between Derry and Offaly at Croke Park in Dublin.
Offaly manager Michael Fennelly is congratulated by Offaly GAA chairman Michael Duignan after the Christy Ring Cup Final match between Derry and Offaly at Croke Park in Dublin.

Fennelly delighted to win the Christy Ring Cup, not just to get out of it

By Kevin Egan

While a lot of the hurling public looked at Offaly’s two-year tenure in the Christy Ring Cup as a trap from which the Faithful County had to extricate themselves, manager Michael Fennelly took a different tack when he spoke about the competition after his side’s win over Derry this afternoon, saying that they treated it as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle.

“It was important to win the Christy Ring, it wasn’t about getting out of it," said the Ballyhale man.

“We respected each team and we did our analysis on each team. Derry had improved massively over the last four to five weeks. They played very well against Wicklow and Sligo. They had a very poor league campaign so even information I was getting was that maybe Derry weren’t as good, but from what I saw, they were much better. We did our analysis during the week and made sure the lads were right. There is no secret to it”.

It was all a far cry from the dismal, wet afternoon in Newry where Offaly crashed out of the 2020 competition after suffering a penalty shootout defeat to Down. There has been a marked contrast in Offaly’s fortunes between the two seasons, in both league and championship, but Fennelly argued that 2020 was part of the journey, as opposed to a sign that they needed to reset what they were doing.

“I went in straight away after the Down game that we lost and I said 'we're doing things right'. I knew in my heart and soul, to follow your gut is key when you're a manager and my gut was telling me that we were doing the right things. We were doing the right things”, he said.

“The result didn't go our way against Down that day, we lost on penalties. In the League we drew against Antrim, they got two goals in the last three minutes and a draw wasn't enough to get into a final. We would have been playing Antrim in the final so 2020 could have been so different for us. But in one sense, it could have been a good thing. I think some players moved on, the management and backroom team became more hungry to improve.

“A lot of people thought we'd walk it last year, I didn't think so but that complacency can creep in and it's hard to get it out when it does”.

After winning eight games in eight starts this year, all bar one by a double figure margin, already Offaly are being marked out as ready for a quick trip through the Joe McDonagh Cup and on to their eventual destination of Leinster Championship hurling. Fennelly was quick to shut that down however, as he spoke of how the levels move up very quickly from here.

“We are in the Joe McDonagh next year. That’s our next job and we are looking at that. The vision would be Liam McCarthy but how far is that away, I’m not sure. We see Waterford and Limerick, they’re bringing things to another level. They are not going backwards.

“These Offaly boys are good. They are honest, eager to improve and eager to develop. We need to bring on the younger players that bit quicker to try get them up to speed. There is a plan with Michael Duignan and his team to develop club hurling in Offaly, that’s key. Schools is key. That will take time. The vision is there and the structures will hopefully be there in the next two to three years”.

Fennelly spoke about how he has come to the end of his agreed two-year tenure with Offaly, and that he would talk to his wife and to the Offaly county board before making a decision on whether or not to continue in the role. However he was adamant that regardless of who oversees the senior hurling team in the county next year, that looking too far down the road isn’t an option.

“The next manager of Offaly; if I'm there or whoever is there; you need to have feet on the ground, there's a lot of work that needs to be done. People are saying Offaly are back at the top table, we're not. That concept or perception needs to change.

“We're going in the right direction, there's so much work that needs to be done and the players will tell you that, they're mad for it and they're eager to do it but there's a big step to be taken. The Waterford and Limericks are bringing it to another level, where are we at the moment? We're definitely down the line a bit but we're going in the right direction”.