Tomorrow's O'Byrne Cup semi-finals in Leinster are comparatively
celebrity-free. Of the four teams, only Offaly - who face Longford -
have achieved any senior success in recent times and under new
manager Padraig Nolan, they have reached a crossroads in their
Having enjoyed a great deal of success under the management of
Tommy Lyons, with Leinster and National Football League titles in
1997 and '98 respectively, the county must now recover after a
disappointing 1999 which saw them relegated to Division Two and
comprehensively beaten in the championship by Meath for the second
Nolan was in some ways a surprise choice for the job. Like Lyons,
he had no inter-county experience but unlike his predecessor, didn't
come from a high-profile club background. He was involved with the
successful St Patrick's Navan teams of the early 1990s but has since
moved job to the vocational school in Naas.
A comparatively young appointment at 35, Nolan is from Kilcock
and played for Kildare at the end of the 1980s, a career which
included one historic achievement. "I was on the Kildare team which
lost to Kilkenny in the O'Byrne Cup," he says. "There were about 10
people at the match and four paragraphs in the Independent the next
day. Unfortunately I scored a point so there was no denying I played
in it. I got a lot of phone calls that day."
He is upbeat about the challenge of getting Offaly back on track.
"It's a privilege to be involved at this level, the sort of
opportunity you'd have to take. The players have been really
excellent. The advantage of coming in after Tommy Lyons is that he
had left a very good set-up and players are used to doing things
"Our aim is to get promoted from Division Two and the Westmeath
match (the resumption of the League campaign next month) is our most
important in the immediate future but the O'Byrne Cup's great for
giving a team a few matches in a competitive environment."
So far he has adopted a low profile and professes himself a bit
baffled at the publicity attracted by managers but accepts that it's
part of the territory he now inhabits.
"The game is about players and I know that from talking to
players in Meath (he has worked with Dunderry) where they're used to
the spotlight, in the space of two or three years the hype has
increased so much."
Nolan is troubled by injury concerns with International Rules
player John Kenny due to see medical specialist and former Meath
All-Ireland winner Gerry McEntee about a groin problem for which an
operation may be necessary. This would keep him out for a few
months. Pascal Kelleghan is also out for a few weeks with a
hamstring pull and dual player Killian Farrell has just had a pin
inserted in his wrist and won't be back for six weeks.
The other O'Byrne Cup semi-final in Portlaoise sees Westmeath,
conquerors of under-strength Meath last week, travel to face Laois
who have beaten them in the last two Leinster championships.