John Maughan wishes his Offaly players were stretched with Sigerson football
Offaly v Down (Sunday, O’Connor Park, Tullamore, 12noon)
WHILE most inter-county football managers, at both senior and underage levels, might earnestly wish for a dearth of colleges and schools games involving their players, especially around this time of year, Offaly manager John Maughan isn’t one of them.
Maughan, now in his second year with Offaly, is facing the uphill task of rebuilding the county as a footballing force and believes many of his young charges would benefit from playing in competitions such as the Sigerson Cup.
The immediate aim of Maughan’s rebuilding job is to get the Faithful county out of Division Three of the National League, an objective he shares with Down boss Paddy Tally, who brings his Mourne men to O’Connor Park in Tullamore for a shootout this Sunday. Both sides are on five points with four games played in the division and Maughan knows, with Derry and Longford also on five points, fine margins may settle this promotion battle.
“Offaly have struggled, there’s no question about that, it’s a dual county, a small county, it wouldn’t have a big school population playing Hogan Cup, for argument’s sake,” the former Mayo manager said.
“We haven’t had a big number playing Sigerson, whereas in the north, you have strong teams in St Mary’s, Jordanstown and Queen’s. So there’s a big tradition in the likes of Derry and Down playing Sigerson football and I know from my own time playing football that that would’ve brought me on incredibly as a young footballer.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve a single player in Offaly – and we’ve a lot of young lads – playing Sigerson football, so you have to look at that and say ‘why’. Then you go back to the school system and looking down at the club structure and the underage coaching and there’s a lot of work in the last couple of years, at county level, been put in at minors, U20s and hopefully that will bear fruition over the next couple of years, but it’s a huge, huge commitment.”
With the advent of the tier-two championship this summer, Maughan – who has also had spells of management with Clare, Fermanagh and Roscommon – has been left scratching his head at what exactly the incentives for footballers from the ‘weaker’ counties are.
“Inter-county football has changed extraordinarily in the last number of years,” he said.
“It’s a huge lifestyle choice. If you stand in front of an inter-county team and you’re trying to paint a picture of what they might achieve, you can’t stand in front of an Offaly football squad and say ‘lads, we’re going to win the All-Ireland’ – the chances of that happening in the immediate future are slim to none. Likewise, even the Leinster Championship.
“I don’t know where football is going to go in the near future, this tier-two competition, will it achieve what it’s intended to achieve? Will it be competitive? Will it be marketed properly? What’s in it for players? Will there be Allstars trips for them?
“I feel that a lot of the top teams are rewarded extraordinarily well and maybe rightly so, but a Sligo footballer who is putting in a huge commitment, the Derrys or the Downs and the Offalys are putting in a similar commitment and very often with no reward or recognition.”
With Cork on maximum points at the top of Division Three, it’s down to the four teams in the chasing pack to make the case in the remaining games that they are good enough to make the jump to the second division. Maughan is surprised Down are still in the division, but has spotted weaknesses he will aim to exploit on Sunday.
“This year, Cork look like a very formidable outfit. You could make a case for why they shouldn’t be in Division Three football, but they are where they are,” Maughan added.
“I was surprised that Down weren’t promoted last year – we played them up in Newry and they were very formidable in the second-half. I think we went in a point ahead at half-time and they ran out convincing winners. They’re a team who are very, very difficult to break down.
“They’re on five points, I’m sure they would rather have the eight, they have been beaten and there’s a vulnerability there that you’d hope to exploit, but there’s no guarantees. They’re still a good team with a lot of talented footballers.”