Offaly clash gives us great chance of getting to Croker
Published 21/01/2016 | 00:00
Sport would be nothing without its glorious unpredictability.
It's those unexpected results and unusual developments which keep us coming back for more, and long may it last.
Imagine being a proud Longford follower right now. We all know that the midlanders haven't a hope of winning the All-Ireland Senior title this year, but if you happened to walk down a Main Street in any of the county's major towns yesterday it wouldn't have felt that way.
Beating the Dubs on Sunday, albeit in the O'Byrne Cup, will give Longford folk a spring in their step and a store of happy memories until the next unexpected outcome in their favour.
Looking at matters from our own perspective, it's fair to say that a couple of assumptions would have been made from a cursory glance at the Walsh Cup groups before the competition started, along with a look at the semi-final draw.
Firstly, Wexford's qualification would have been anticipated and certainly wasn't a surprise, given that their opponents were I.T. Carlow, Meath and Carlow in that order.
However, most onlookers would have regarded Kilkenny as hot favourites to provide us with a good, stern test in the penultimate round given their inclusion with Offaly and D.I.T.
What we didn't bargain for was that the Cats would opt not to field any of their All-Ireland winning side as they had returned from holidays just a few days before the county's first fixture of 2016.
Instead, former star forward Eddie Brennan was immediately thrust into the limelight after taking up the manager's role with the Under-21s, as his charges were deployed instead along with a small band of more seasoned fringe players.
And, while Conor McDonald and Jack Guiney weren't allowed to play with their own county in the Walsh Cup, they set about ensuring that Kilkenny wouldn't be meeting us either last week, scoring 2-4 and 1-2 respectively as D.I.T. put the All-Ireland champions to the sword.
It meant that Offaly would advance once they avoided a very heavy defeat to the black and ambers on Sunday, having obliterated the students a few weeks earlier.
And they went even better than that on the return to their spiritual hurling home of Birr for the first competitive fixture there in a staggering nine years, winning by six points to ensure they will be travelling to Wexford for the semi-final this coming weekend.
This represents a great chance for the Slaneysiders to end our long wait for a game in Croke Park four months ahead of schedule. The Walsh Cup final is fixed for headquarters on the evening of Saturday, January 30, as a curtain-raiser to Dublin's Allianz Football League opener against Kerry.
And what better way to prepare for the Limerick clash a fortnight later than to contest a final under floodlights, given that our National League opener on Shannonside is also an evening fixture?
Of course, we must be careful to take it one step at a time, as we haven't been tested yet while Offaly seem to be prospering from the natural bounce that often comes with the arrival of a new manager at this time of year.
In their case it's Eamonn Kelly who has come to the Faithful county from his native Kildangan in nearby north Tipperary via a successful stint with Kerry who have emerged from the Christy Ring Cup wilderness thanks to this efforts.
Still, I'm sure if the Wexford management had been offered a clash with Offaly and an outing in Croker as the prize for the winners a few weeks ago, they would have gladly accepted. Here's hoping our men rise to the challenge and give us another decent game ahead of what looks like being our toughest and most crucial opening to a league campaign in many years.
Speaking of new bosses, Martin Storey didn't get off to the best of starts with Wicklow when they went down to Maynooth University in the Kehoe Cup on Sunday.
Ironically enough, one of his clubmates helped to spoil the party as Oulart-The Ballagh defender Kevin Sheridan started with the students along with Jim White (Oylegate-Glenbrien) and Ross Donohoe (Buffers Alley). Tom Stafford of Naomh Eanna came on while Brad Cohen (St. Martin's) was a substitute in a game refereed by Barry Redmond, with Justin Heffernan assisting as linesmen.