As we prepare to deep-dive into the 2019 championship it’s important to remember that years like this don’t come around very often.
As Dublin wait in the wings preparing for their tilt at becoming the first-ever team to win five-in-a-row, we reflect on the last football side to attempt it. Of course, by now every man and his dog knows the story of 1982 and how Offaly derailed Kerry’s drive-for-five.
The Faithful County have fallen by the wayside in the 27-years since Seamus Darby’s epic last-gasp rasper lifted the roof of Croker and sent the people of Offaly into dreamland.
While they may not be hitting the heights of old, there’s no doubt that the spirit of ’82 lives on and that is epitomised by none more so than Niall Darby, son of All-Ireland winner, Stephen, and nephew of match-winner, Seamus.
The versatile Darby is a realist when it comes to Offaly’s current stature but still, he draws inspiration from his father, his uncle and the rest of the ’82 heroes.
“My uncle and my father won All Ireland’s, so I was brought up with the spirit of ’82 and all the weight of it. I draw an awful lot of inspiration from what my father and my uncle did because as a young lad all I ever wanted to do was play football for Offaly and then you dream of winning Leinster’s and All Ireland’s and seeing these men day in, day out and they’ve done that for Offaly and sometimes I forget that and you say to me my uncle and my father won All Ireland’s and Leinster’s and that’s something I take great inspiration from.”
Given the current stranglehold, Dublin have over both Leinster and the All-Ireland Championship’s it’s difficult for an Offaly to break through in the current climate. It’s not something that is going to happen overnight, it’s a building process that takes time and Darby knows this.
“With Dublin, Leinster is kind of a closed book at the minute but that’s not our protocol at the minute, our aim is small incremental steps every single year to see that bit of progress every year, to bring players through every year and then hopefully it will culminate into challenging the likes of Dublin, Kildare and Meath for the Leinster Championship consistently.
“You have to be realistic as well. That’s not where we are at at the minute, we’ve to focus on the here and now. No, hopefully as I said with the right man in place, John, and the right group of players we can make those small steps and get that bit closer every year.”
The Faithful County have faith that John Maughan is the right man to lead them and Darby credits this “great character” for bringing new ideas to the Offaly setup and creating a “good atmosphere”.
“He’s a great character, he’s been excellent since he came in, I couldn’t speak highly enough of him if I’m being honest, he’s brought in new ideas and he’s a fresh voice. Training’s gone very well under him and he’s created a very good atmosphere and a great group and all the players are very fond of him. I’d speak on behalf of everyone, he’s very well-got by the players which is half the battle as well. You know, you always see it as you let him down if you don’t win or you don’t perform but no, I’m delighted to have him on board.”
It didn’t take long for Maughan to make headlines around the country. Firstly it was his questioning around certain panel members opting out of the side before claiming he’d saw players in Offaly that would walk into the Mayo side.
Darby’s view is that Maughan’s openness and lack of fear in complimenting his players fills them with confidence as opposed to making them shy away. He also feels that had Maughan had all the players at his disposal that he wanted then Offaly would be a match for anyone.
“We feed off whatever he tells us, the buck stops with him with everything and if he’s that confident then we feed off that and in turn we try and translate that into our performances. He speaks very highly of the players in Offaly, there are a lot of players that aren’t in with us at the minute that would be in other circumstances but John’s right, if we had everyone, you know, it’s no disrespect to the lads we have there at the minute but if we had everyone we’d definitely be a match for anyone I think.”
A big challenge lies ahead for Maughan, Darby and the rest of the Offaly faithful on Sunday when they travel to Navan to take on a Meath side rich in confidence having secured promotion back to Division 1 after a 13-year hiatus.
Not many are giving Offaly a chance and that suits Darby just fine. There may not be much talk about Offaly but as the old adage goes: ‘it’s the quiet ones you have to watch’.
“Meath are obviously going to be very tough. It’s going to be a huge test and it’s in Navan as well. You can’t afford to look past Meath or anyone because if you do that’s when you are going to be caught so we’re full steam ahead for Meath and after that, I don’t know but that’s where the focus is at the minute.
“Yeah well, that can be a good thing (being massive underdogs) because the pressure will be off us and no one will expect anything from us but look that’s where teams are most dangerous and particularly Offaly teams down through the years as well. We have won an All-Ireland before from being in that position. It’s going to be very tough against Meath, especially in Navan but on any given day 0ver 70 minutes anything is possible so hopefully, we can spring a surprise.”