By Paul O’Neill
Tina Hannon says Offaly want to march directly into the All-Ireland Camogie semi-finals as they chase a spot in the last four for the second time in just their third year as a senior county.
Offaly have been a revelation since playing their first Championship game at the highest level in 2011.
While they failed to make the knockout stages that season, the Faithful County advanced to the semi-finals last year and are assured of a place in the quarter-finals at the very least ahead of the last series of games in the group phase.
Offaly, though, have a tall order on their hands if they are to go straight into the semi-finals as they must beat Cork, who are the favourites with many followers of the game to lift the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Championship title this year.
But forward Hannon insists Offaly will face into Saturday’s Group 2 showdown at Páirc Uí Rinn believing they are capable of pulling off a shock win.
“We know that we will still have the opportunity to get into the semi-finals even if we do not defeat Cork, but we are keen to take the direct route,” insisted Hannon.
“The way we see it is that we are only 60 minutes away from the semi-finals, so one big push will give us a great chance of getting the right result.
“In the two games we have had so far – against Dublin and Tipperary – we played quite well for about half of each of them. Now it is a case of performing at our best for a full game and we feel we can do that.
The way we see it is that we are only 60 minutes away from the semi-finals" - Tina Hannon
“However we realise just how hard it promises to be against Cork as they have been exceptional this year. They won the National League when finishing with a 100 per cent record and – like us – have been victorious in all of their Championship games to date," she added.
“We can understand why they are strongly fancied to top the group and take a place in the semi-finals but perhaps we can do like what many Offaly football and hurling teams have done over the years and upset the odds.”
While Offaly have adapted well to life at camogie’s senior level, not all counties have done so well after making the jump up.
Over the last 11 years Antrim and Derry have joined the senior ranks but have lasted no more than three years after failing to make a significant breakthrough – although Derry have returned this season.
But Hannon revealed Offaly did not know what the future held when they chose to go senior.
She added: “When we came up it was a real step into the unknown.
“It was a case of waiting to see how we got on but we were anxious to give it our best and make it a success.
“The first season was particularly tough because, apart from getting used to a faster and more physical sort of game, we also had seven Championship outings in as many weeks.
“Last year was not quite as hectic while we had got to grips with the intensity and we had a good draw which helped our prospects of progressing.
“To some, reaching the semi-finals might have been seen as fortunate on our part but we have been determined this year to show that we got there on merit and can keep producing similar runs on a regular basis.”
Offaly’s progress is all the more remarkable considering they have had a different manager for each of the seasons they have spent as a senior side.
After leading them up, Joachim Kelly continued for the first year of their adventure and was succeeded by John Troy – who opted out after one season to be replaced by current boss Aidan Franks.
But Hannon does not believe the chopping and changing has harmed the team.
Hannon explained: “While the managers have altered, quite a bit has stayed the same and that has allowed for plenty of continuity.
“For a start, the squad has remained largely the same with some new players coming in and others leaving. The new managers have retained some of the ideas of their predecessors although understandably they have brought their own too and that has provided freshness which can be welcome.”
Offaly will be without Aoife Kelly for the Cork clash as she is unavailable but Arlene Watkins could feature at some stage after last week returning to training following a lay-off with a broken ankle.
Saturday: Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Camogie Senior Championship first round, Group 1: Derry v Galway (Portmarnock, 3.15), Wexford v Clare (Wexford Park, 5.0). Group 2: Cork v Offaly (Páirc Uí Rinn, 2.0), Dublin v Tipperary (Parnell Park, 1.0).