THE uneasy alliance which had existed over the last two months between the Offaly hurling team and manager Michael `Babs' Keating, finally cracked yesterday when the former Tipperary star resigned.
Brendan Ward, the chairman of the Offaly Co Board, admitted last night that in the circumstances Keating was left with no option but to get out after just nine months in the job.
"I had been attempting to get in touch with Babs for most of the day and he eventually rang me back and said that he was resigning. I accepted his resignation," said Ward last night.
However he felt that this action by Keating might now lift whatever dissatisfactions and unhappiness which appeared to have weighted heavily on the shoulders of certain Offaly players.
He also felt that the team, as a whole, would benefit and that they will go on and make their mark in the All-Ireland series, beginning with the quarter-final against either Galway, Antrim or Roscommon at Croke Park on July 26.
"Under the circumstances, Babs did the right thing but this might be just the thing to get our team playing like they," said Ward who promised that no stone will be left unturned to have a replacement found for Keating as soon as possible, probably within the next seven days.
Ward disclosed that he and the Offaly secretary, Christy Todd, had met Keating on Monday night to discuss the comments he made to the media after Offaly's defeat by Kilkenny in Sunday's Leinster final when he compared his team to sheep running around in a heap and not listening to what he was saying.
"We discussed many things with Babs and we made our points to him.
"He accepted them and he was prepared to continue as manager and we were happy with that, especially since we were only three weeks away from an All-Ireland quarter-final."
Yesterday Keating outlined his reasons for stepping down as manager while the Offaly team are still in with a chance of lifting the McCarthy Cup.
Keating referred to the response from midfielder, Johnny Pilkington to his post-match comments after Sunday's defeat which appeared in yesterday's Irish Independent. "It was a condemnation of me more than the Offaly team and some Offaly people jumped to hasty conclusions," said Keating.
"I met the County Board last night and they saw it the way I saw it.
"Having thought about it, I felt it more beneficial for hurling in Offaly to step down at this stage because the game of hurling in Offaly is bigger than the County Board."
Keating indicated in his radio interview that he changed his mind about remaining on at the helm after receiving a few phone calls in light of Pilkington's response.
The player accused Keating of making the players look like idiots and indisciplined, of making poor tactical decisions during the game and of not doing sufficient ball-work in training.
Keating went on to say that to be fair to the Offaly hurlers a number of them made a serious attempt to get it right but there were others who did not do so.
"At this stage they still have a chance and some one might help to bring them through to the final campaign" he said.
Keating went on to say that while he was not happy with a few developments he never wanted to be accused of causing disruption within Offaly hurling.
But he felt that if Pilkington wanted to be genuine in his criticism or response to his Croke Park interview with the media "he should have told the whole story, not half of it or a third of it."
It was on May 3 came the first hint that all was not rosy in the Offaly camp when Keating announced after a fund-raising match against Tipperary in Clonmel that he was resigning because of the failure of a number of players to make it to the venue and other problems within the county.
Ward managed to talk Keating out of resigning and agreed to come back if matters were trashed out to his satisfaction.
Two nights later he conducted a full training session and afterwards discussed many issues with the Executive.
However it's no secret that after that development the relationship between Keating and the players, and visa versa, was never the same.
The trust and confidence which existed when he took over began to wear thin.
One player who wished to remain anonymous told me that normally he loved coming to training and really looked forward to it but in recent weeks he grew to dislike it because of the lack of real competitive hurling.
As Ward says the ball is now back in Offaly's court and it's up to the players to respond and show what they are made of in their hour of crisis.