One hurling step forward followed by two steps back

On The Line with Alan Aherne

Published 19/03/2016 | 00:00

I decided to sleep on it rather than committing my thoughts to print in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's latest hurling setback against Offaly.

However, with shut-eye proving an elusive commodity in the hours between Sunday night and Monday morning due to tight deadlines, this piece is being constructed before the break of dawn.

And one obvious thought occurred to me as I typed: anyone directly involved in that galling defeat will be waking up with that horrible sickly feeling that parks itself in the pit of one's stomach and often stays there for days after a poor performance.

Indeed, if any player or mentor didn't feel that way yesterday morning, they have no business being involved at such a high level as it clearly doesn't mean enough to them.

And I'm probably making an assumption when I mention sleep in the first place, because I imagine some of the crew would have spent many hours tossing and turning without even a remote chance of getting any decent rest.

Naturally I cannot identify with that feeling as a player, but I have been a mentor with enough teams to know that there's nothing worse than the immediate aftermath of a bad loss; sometimes it lingers until the next positive result, with the days often turning into weeks before the corner is turned.

I've been there and worn the t-shirt more than once, so I'm not going to use this column to have a go at anyone involved. I've never listened to it myself, but I'm reliably informed that there's more than enough of that on the airwaves on most Monday mornings after a defeat.

I'm told that anonymous critics are incredibly given a regular platform to spew their venom and belittle amateurs who are doing their best at all times, with this ugly charade facilitated by people who really should know better if they have any professional standards.

The most charitable thing I can say about the hurlers right now is that they're not making it any easier for their decent, loyal followers to back them to the hilt.

I imagine the players themselves would accept that sentiment in light of the downs, ups and more downs of the league campaign to date.

And I must admit that I'm entirely flummoxed as to what might happen next. After the unacceptable display against Limerick, positives were evident in the battling loss to Clare.

I will hold my hands up and accept I got it completely wrong before the Kerry game, as I genuinely expected the trip to Tralee to be a difficult assignment and wrote words to that effect in this column.

And while the paucity of the home side's challenge had to be taken into account, I felt on the trip home that Wexford had turned the corner. It was another step-up from the Clare game, with the players hunting in packs and combining well as they chalked up a big winning tally.

Alas, Sunday was a case of one step forward followed by two steps back. Is there such a thing as getting a start that is actually too good?

I wondered that after Wexford registered two goals inside four minutes and went on to be completely and utterly outplayed in practically every department. Instead of really going for the jugular against fragile opponents, they unwittingly released the hidden beast within the Offaly ranks and were beaten long before the final whistle.

By my reckoning we will still be contesting the league quarter-final, regardless of Sunday's result in Portlaoise, and we cannot finish anywhere other than fourth spot barring an odd result elsewhere.

A win would see us fill that position as, even if Offaly unexpectedly lose to Kerry, they prevailed in the head-to-head. A draw would leave us the sole team on three points and that would suffice unless the Kingdom triumph which would consign us to fifth.

And as for the worst option, namely another loss, let's assume again that Kerry will be defeated. Our superior scoring difference would see us advance in that scenario as we currently have 49 points to spare on Laois and 39 on the Kingdom.

I'd like to predict what will happen but, like I alluded to above, it's impossible to know what Wexford will bring to the table at this stage.

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