By Séamus Leonard
Offaly face the daunting prospect of taking on Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, with the Faithful hoping for a similar performance to the one they gave on Leeside in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship qualifiers last year.
Cork won that game 2-17 to 2-16, but the Rebels have improved significantly under the stewardship of Jimmy Barry-Murphy, while Ollie Baker’s Offaly outfit are in a state of stagnation.
The Midlanders would have been boosted by their Leinster quarter-final win over Wexford, but any feel-good factor would have dissipated after the 5-23 to 3-15 pasting they took from Galway in the subsequent semi-final.
Baker has rung the changes in the hope of restoring some bite to his starting XV, and he is also hoping that a round of club fixtures last weekend will have brought his men on.
It will be a big day for Eoin Kelly (another one?), as the Lusmagh clubman makes his Championship debut between the posts.
Baker initially reacted to the draw by claiming it was "the toughest possible draw". But the former Clare star has since changed his stance, and insisted that they will travel with every intention of “winning the game”.
It’s an admirable position to take, but Offaly will have their work cut out to overcome a Cork side that reached the Allianz League Division 1 final and also pushed Tipperary to the pin of their collars in the Munster semi-final.
The Rebels have wisely kept changes to a minimum, with Christopher Joyce replacing dual star Eoin Cadogan (who has footballing commitments) in defence, while Cian McCarthy in for Cathal Naughton in attack.
Progression is the sole goal for the hosts. Restoring some pride will be top of the agenda for the visitors