By Micil Glennon
Offaly manager Emmet McDonnell has stressed the importance of taking the rebuilding process of the county’s footballers one step at a time.
The Faithful County’s three-match winning run came to an end yesterday when were beaten by Kildare in the O’Byrne Cup semi-final in Tullamore.
In 2012, between league and Championship, Offaly won just one game and now find themselves in the bottom tier alongside London and Leitrim.
But new manager McDonnell saw his charges beat Laois, Athlone IT and Westmeath in January and would have taken Kildare to extra-time yesterday but for a late missed penalty.
McDonnell said: “It’s important that everyone keeps their feet on the ground. Kildare probably weren’t at full strength today.
“They wouldn't be looking at the O’Byrne Cup as a major priority; they’re looking to win a Leinster championship whereas we’re just taking it one game at a time, trying to make small gains all the time.”
"We played 74 minutes there today and we were still going strong at the end" - Emmet McDonnell
The 33-year-old Westmeath native was also pleased with the progress of some of the younger players on the team during the 1-12 to 1-09 loss.
“We’ve tried to introduce a number of lads," he said.
“Paul McPadden, who was brought down for the penalty, Peter Cunningham put in a few good balls into Anton [Sullivan].
"Eoin Carroll, at number 12, is 18 years of age, and was fantastic out there today. We're trying to introduce the [younger] players with some of the older players to get the balance right but we still have work to do.
“The lads fought to the end and there was a lot written over the last couple of years about the levels of fitness in Kildare, Donegal and Laois and we played 74 minutes there today and we were still going strong at the end so I was very impressed with that.”
It was the second game in a row that star forward Niall McNamee missed a penalty but McDonnell backed the Rhode man.
“Niall is our marquee player, we trust Niall, we have huge faith in him, he’s the captain and the leader of the team. He’s been the guy driving the whole show. He’s a top-class footballer,” he added.
Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney also had a word of praise for the Offaly boss.
"Emmet’s a great coach and he has a system that he’s honed in on with his own schools and teams in the past," he said.