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That’s where you want to be’ – dominant Dubs cast shadow but Declan Kelly keen to focus on the Faithful


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“I went up the next day and had a look at Meath and Dublin, sure like the Dubs were pretty impressive, as normal,” the Offaly manager says with a chuckle.

That 3-19 to 0-12 hammering of the Royals had tongues wagging about the state of the Leinster SFC once again and what changes might need to be made but Kelly’s demeanour changed little from the first whistle to the last.

He insists that the Dubs have been “pound for pound the stand-out team this year as they keep adding layers to their squad” but the Faithful’s preparation for their Croke Park bout this Sunday won’t change too much based on the opposition, no matter how daunting they may be.

​Some would argue that the ‘reward’ meant that the victors of the Laois and Offaly tie were already doomed for failure with a potential hammering against the Dubs possibly obliterating their season, whereas the losers could instead retreat to the shadows for the Tailteann Cup with their morale still somewhat in tact.

Kelly doesn’t see it like a poison chalice whatsoever, though.

“I look at a lot of teams in Leinster and they are much the same at this stage [outside of Dublin], there’s very little between them all. Our record against Laois is not good and it hasn’t been for 20 years so you would have targeted trying to get a result in the Laois match.

“Your reward for that is playing Dublin in Croke Park, to me that’s where you want to be. It’s 2007 since we last played Dublin in championship football and it’ll be our third time playing them this year between the O’Byrne Cup and a development squad game during the league,” he says.

“You have to try and put yourself out there and see where you are, where you’re going. We’re not in Division 1, you’re not getting the opportunities to come up against the big guns so when it arrives, you do want to go in there and see where you are.

“That’s ultimately what you want to find out about where fellas are, that’s it. You’d prepare as normal. Obviously, they’ve a lot more players to shut down than most other teams but talking to the lads, they’re looking forward to the challenge and seeing where it takes us.”

Kelly will know what level his squad is at come 5.45 on Sunday afternoon – albeit they could know a lot earlier given the Dubs’ dominance – but what does he feel is realistic against Dessie Farrell’s defending All-Ireland champions?

“There’s no point talking about scorelines and no matter who we were playing in the morning, you’re never talking about, ‘We need to score x, y and z’. You’d be looking at what you’d like to hold the opposition to, that’d be the norm anyway,” the Kilclonfert clubman says.

“Dublin can get a run on you early on and at any level or any grade, they could do a number on a team very, very quickly. It’s about going out there and preparing for Dublin as best as we can and putting our best foot forward.

“What I would look at is that fellas play to their maximum or play to their best and see where that takes you after that. We had a good performance in patches against Laois, we probably didn’t see that game out as well as we would have liked.

“I suppose that’s one area that you’re trying to look at, against a Dublin or that when you are on top and you get opportunities, you have to be pretty clinical with them because the likes of the top teams aren’t going to give you a lot of opportunities.

“And most definitely as regards them turning you over and that in various parts of field, they will hurt you and that is something that we have been speaking about all year and not handing over possession because if they come at you in waves, it can be a long afternoon then.”

Kelly was promoted to the senior job ahead of this season having famously guided the U-20s to All-Ireland success in 2021 and many of those players are now the driving force of the current side.

Lee Pearson captains the side at the tender age of 21 while his Tullamore club-mates Cormac Egan and John Furlong man the wing-back spots with Jack Bryant, Keith O’Neill and Cathal Flynn also being vital cogs in the Faithful attack.

Kelly and that cohort return to the scene of their All-Ireland final victory over Roscommon and while many bemoan the fact that Dublin will play on a pitch they know all too well, the Offaly boss knows that his side will “learn an awful lot” at GAA HQ as “it’s definitely different than your normal game”.

“You would be happy where a lot of the younger fellas that have probably come in this year are at, they’re finding their feet and they are beginning to establish themselves on the team, that’s where we are at the minute,” he says.

The chance of victory against the game’s standard-bearers is reflected in Offaly’s 33/1 odds but Kelly knows that his side will be out again in a fortnight “whatever way the result goes” and he demands a mindset shift.

“From an Offaly perspective going beyond Sunday, we have to embrace the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers or the Tailteann Cup because it’s something that we haven’t collectively done for the last 20 years,” Kelly says.

“If you’re going to be on about development and getting players to commit long-term to a county set-up, you’re guaranteed more games and that’s where our focus has to turn to whatever the outcome is on Sunday.”

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