Offaly hurlers hope to use McDonagh Cup as launch-pad
By John Harrington
For many Offaly hurling supporters of a certain vintage, competing in this year’s Joe McDonagh Cup is a bitter pill to swallow.
The All-Ireland victories of the 1990s are still relatively fresh in the mind’s eye, so accepting that Offaly are now a tier-two county isn’t an easy sell for some.
Time moves on though, and the players themselves like team captain Pat Camon aren’t wasting any emotional energy bemoaning their current status.
Instead he’s choosing to view this year’s Joe McDonagh Cup as an opportunity to give Offaly hurling the sort of momentum it needs to start moving in the right direction again.
“I was only two when Offaly won the 1994 All-Ireland and six when they won in 1998,” Camon told GAA.ie at the launch of the Joe McDonagh Cup in Croke Park today.
“All the traditionalist in the county want to see Offaly back at the top table and so do I, but realistically we're not at the top table now, we're in the tier below the Leinster Hurling Championship.
“The Joe McDonagh Cup will be a launch-pad for whoever wins it this year and hopefully that will be us. Carlow used it last year as a launch-pad and you can see what sort of shape they're in now.
“We want to use it as a launchpad ourselves this year and hopefully we'll be back in the top-tier of hurling next year.
“The Joe McDonagh is a very, very good competition. It's a realistic aim for counties like ourselves, Westmeath, Kerry, Antrim, and Laois to win. It's going to be very tough and competitive, and hopefully we can come out on the right side of it.
“We want to win the Joe McDonagh, there's no bones about it. But every team that's in it believes they can win it too.”
As much as Camon expects every match they play in the McDonagh Cup to be a real battle, he’s confident too that if Offaly can play to their full potential then they’re good enough to win them all.
“There's definitely quality there,” he said. “Everyone knows Shane Dooley and Joe Bergin, but there are other lads there who don't get as much limelight that are serious hurlers too.
“Young lads like David Nally, Shane Kinsella is a serious hurler, Eoin Cahill is as good a goalkeeper as there is in the game, and Ben Conneely is a serious defender.
“We have some very, very good hurlers and I would be very confident. We're a tight-knit group and we're very confident.
“Not in a cocky-way, but we're very confident in ourselves and the quality that we have that we can turn it on and hopefully we'll come out the right side of the Joe McDonagh.”
Offaly couldn’t have asked for a tougher game to begin their McDonagh Cup campaign – a showdown with their midlands rivals, Laois, on Saturday evening.
The two counties are currently the joint favourites to win the competition, but whoever loses this match will already find themselves on the back-foot.
“Laois is a serious, serious game,” said Camon. “I was chatting to (Laois hurler) Paddy Purcell earlier on and he was saying they lost their first match last year and it put them on the back foot.
“The first game, if you win that, it gives you a very, very good launch-pad going forward into the next match. We have Westmeath the week after in a seven-day turn-around in Mullingar and that's going to be a serious test again.
“We've always got it hard against Westmeath. They've won a couple of games against us up there and there will only be a puck of the ball in it.
“But we're just focusing on Laois, seven o'clock on Saturday evening. Hopefully we can produce the goods see where we go from there.”