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Days of destiny approach for Offaly by Gavin Cummiskey was published in the Irish Times on Wednesday the 4th of May 2005
Remember Offaly hurlers? All-Ireland champions in 1994 and 1998. Twice in the 1980s as well.
They play two season-defining games in the coming weeks; one is on Saturday against Carlow - who beat them recently - in the Division Two final. The second, the championship opener against Kilkenny next month, is being billed as a lambs to the slaughter affair.
The suspended Mick O'Hara is the only absentee this weekend but Brian Whelahan is now gone and Neville Coughlan has opted for football. This leaves manager John McIntyre predicting a three-year rebuilding process before they are serious challengers for an All-Ireland title.
Last Sunday, McIntyre, like the rest of the country, witnessed just how devastatingly good Kilkenny can be. He also noticed that they have the bit between their teeth again. Michael Jacob has a lot to answer for here.
"Kilkenny are on top of their game already and there is no chance of an ambush bearing in mind Michael Jacob's goal last year at the Leinster semi-final stage," said McIntyre.
"Kilkenny blamed that defeat for losing the All-Ireland as it forced them to take the long way to the final. They seem intent on taking the shortest route this time and in many respects we are first up for the guillotine. I suppose our supporters are fearful of an unmerciful hiding but who knows what their form will be like in four weeks' time."
The hope was that Clare would push Kilkenny even harder than last summer, when it took Brian Cody's lot a second day to remove Anthony Daly's team from the championship.
"You can't argue with the final scoreline. Clare would have been keen to win as their players have never won a league title.
"Clare were seen as a team that could shake up Kilkenny physically but the manner they pulled away in the second half fills you with dread. It looks ominous for everyone as they look revitalised. Cody has brought in a couple of newcomers and they have, as usual, fitted seamlessly into the picture. The conveyor belt really is astonishing."
How will Offaly possibly stop them? "Maybe we could set up roadblocks on the road from Kilkenny to Dublin to stop their players getting to Croke Park," McIntyre joked. An instant later he came back to reality to explain where his panel are in the current shake up. "We're certainly not going to lie down against Kilkenny. The main priority is to earn promotion back to Division One and to be honest they are not on the agenda yet as Carlow is by no means a formality.
"The first day against Carlow we were beaten fair and square. They were wound up, passionate and, most importantly, very well organised. Also, their first touch was far better than our guys expected. They showed serious character and hunted in packs all day."
Offaly's presence in Division Two has proved beneficial to some as it ensures the minnow counties have had to raise their games or face a severe beating. Carlow went one better.
"It's only when you experience Division Two hurling that you realise just how hard the teams are working to improve. I suppose our presence does invigorate them.
"We didn't take Carlow for granted. We just weren't allowed to dictate. I said to the guys after that day if we can survive defeat and go back up to Division One the whole experience will be worthwhile. If we can't do that we can forget about Kilkenny."
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