Most managers would settle for being competitive in their team's first season following promotion to a higher-level championship.

Michael Fennelly is not most managers.

Two wins from three and a +13 scoring difference mean his Offaly side shouldn't have to worry about the Joe McDonagh Cup relegation play-offs. But his focus is all on beating Kerry this weekend and taking what would be a big step towards reaching the final.

"I think it would be a failure this year if we didn't get to it," the former Kilkenny star told RTÉ Sport at the announcement of Glenisk as the Faithful County's new title sponsors.

"We're missing probably our best player, Oisin Kelly. He's a huge loss. It would be like losing Cathal Mannion from Galway, TJ Reid or the likes of Gillane in Limerick.

"That's made it extra challenging this year. And we picked up a large number of injuries during the league as well, they were only coming back over the last few weeks. So we've had a mountain of challenges. But I still think we've got to get to the final, without a doubt. And I probably would consider it a failure, yeah, on my side of it more than anything.

"Obviously, we need to win and Kerry need to win. The Joe Mc is very competitive this year. We're not banking on other results to go our way or anything like that.

"Saturday will be a big factor in the overall championship, in terms of who potentially progresses to the final. Obviously, the likes of Carlow and Down are still there and you don't know what can happen. We saw Carlow nearly beating Antrim the last day.

"All we can do is look after our end of the business. But heading off to Tralee any year is difficult. I was down there two years ago myself and it was a big wake-up call in terms of inter-county management. I have no doubt it will be anything different on Saturday.

"We're missing one of our midfielders Leon Fox, unfortunately he has a wedding away this week and will be a big loss for us. Otherwise we’re not too bad. One or two niggly injuries but hopefully we’ll be okay come the weekend."

Michael Fennelly pictured with Offaly forward and free-taker Eoghan Cahill

Offaly were only pipped late on by table-toppers Antrim in the opening game of this year's Joe McDonagh, though at least closed the gap to a point rather than the seven between them in the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 relegation play-off.

Fennelly is realistic that Darren Gleeson's likely finalists are ahead of the pack in the second tier.

"That relegation game answered a few questions for us in terms of who was in form and who was not so I think we were better to get it then than in the Joe McDonagh," he said.

"In one sense, it was an eye-opener and good to get early on. We were able to change around our team and get a bit of work done in two or three weeks. If we had lost by two or three points it could have covered over the cracks.

"They're the number one team there to be fair to them. They’re up in Division 1 again next year and looking to get back up into Leinster.

"They are the in-form team and the team that you would want to be challenging and playing against.

"We had a right ding-dong with them in our first [Joe McDonagh] game and it would be nice to get back there again.

"But it is a bit away and the Kerry game at the weekend is the key one really. Who knows what will happen there, it’s a 50-50 game for both teams I think."

Kerry relegated Offaly last time the sides met in the Joe McDonagh Cup, in 2019

Offaly will contest the Leinster minor hurling final with neighbours Laois for the first time on Monday. There are signs of rebirth in the four-time All-Ireland champions fortunes but Fennelly, an eight-time winner himself, cautions that the gap between underage and senior success is growing and sustained progress is needed.

"Offaly probably are [still] a long way off," he said. "They have a really nice minor team at the moment, and some nice hurlers, but you need another strong minor team coming behind them, and another one, and another one.

"Hopefully they win Leinster next week. It would be savage. But it's a minute step. These boys are 15, 16, 17 years of age. We’re seeing the gap between 20 and senior level as well. A guy playing U20, there might be one maybe in most panels.

"We have one player from the U20s and three fellas in development. They are probably still a good bit off senior level at the moment. But in my time in Kilkenny there was like seven of us who came from U21 onto the senior panel.

"There was a physical mismatch to a certain degree but we were only a year or two off it I think. Cha Fitzpatrick, Richie Power and John Tennyson were 21 and playing senior, playing in All-Irelands. We had a couple more of us ready to go then on the line.

"For me, you need to be competitive at minor and U20 level every year. It might not be the case of winning it. The U20s is knockout at the moment, it's a difficult competition. But you need to be there or thereabouts competing. You've got to be getting to finals, competing in finals and moving past Leinster as well.

"There’s a long road ahead but there’s a lot of good work being done. There are more GPOs after landing on the ground. There’s more focus on development squads, getting in coaches. They’re trying to improve on all those aspects but it takes time. The schools are key. If you’re not at a decent level in primary school, in terms of hurling, it’s very difficult to change a 12 or 13-year-old. It comes from when you’re six, seven, eight years of age and you need to be hurling regularly."

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