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Experienced Offaly footballer Niall Darby.
Experienced Offaly footballer Niall Darby.

Niall Darby remaining faithful to the Offaly cause

By Cian O'Connell

Just over a decade on the inter-county beat with Offaly Niall Darby has experienced the full gamut of emotions.

Hope has been a constant companion and, while demanding defeats have piled up, Darby remains hopeful that bright days await.

Managers have changed on several occasions, but Darby believes that John Maughan has forged a good connection with the current squad.

The turnover in coaches and bosses hasn't helped the Faithful county. “No, you’ve no real consistency, you’ve no real flow to what a manager might want to implement," Darby says.

"So every new manager will have their ideas and generally at this level it might take a year or two for them to start to bear fruit, but yeah, that certainly hasn’t helped because as soon as you might be just getting used to one they’re gone again and it’s hard to go from square one again.

"No, John’s come in and he’s been excellent this year. Really happy with him and everyone is. He’s very well got by the players. It’s going well so far thankfully."

For the past few campaigns Offaly's Allianz Football League Division Three results has fluctuated. That was the case once more in 2019, but Offaly were unfortunate in a number of games, particularly against Westmeath and Louth.

Had victories been registered in those fixtures Offaly may even have pushed for promotion.

“Could easily have been," Darby states. "That’s how fine the line is between promotion and needing a last-minute point away from home to stay in the division but throughout those, we were happy with the performances.

"We could have maybe got more from them but unfortunately that’s the way it goes as well. You’re right, yeah, very close to going down as well, but performances overall were good and they’re something we looked to build on from early on.

Niall Darby during Offaly's 2018 All Ireland SFC Round Two Qualifier against Clare at Bord Na Mona O'Connor Park.
Niall Darby during Offaly's 2018 All Ireland SFC Round Two Qualifier against Clare at Bord Na Mona O'Connor Park.

"Unfortunately we were at the lower end of the table instead of the battle for promotion."

Getting the best talent in Offaly committing to the senior team at the one time remains a lingering issue.

"“Yeah and it has been now and indeed in my time, all throughout my career as well," Darby admits. "Trying to get everyone that should be there in there has always been a problem.

"For one reason or another people haven’t been able to fully commit or have been away or through retirements as well we’ve suffered, but there are a lot of very good footballers there.

"That’s no disrespect to the lads that are in there at the minute, they’re a great group of lads. I love working with them, love training with them every night. Hopefully we can get our own results along the way."

Sunday's trip to Pairc Tailteann for a Leinster Championship tussle with Meath will test Offaly, who are boosted by Niall McNamee's availability.

“I was surprised to be honest because I thought when my own father and his brother Alan couldn’t get him back last year when they were in the interim management, I said no one will ever get him back," Darby remarks about being surprised at McNamee's return.

"John had mentioned it to me a while ago that Niall might be back. I was talking to Niall myself and he said he won’t be back, but then all of a sudden one night John pulled me aside and said, ‘Niall will be back in next week’ so it’s great.

"He’s an absolutely incredible player. I’ve been lucky enough to play with him all my life. 1-6 the last day against Sligo was probably the difference in keeping us up I suppose with a last-minute point. Delighted to have him back."

So are Gaelic Football enthusiasts throughout the country. Darby, who has always kept the faith, has served Offaly with distinction too.