Warwickshire are closing in on a first Croke Park appearance in four years, after running out to a third championship victory in a row in the Lory Meagher Cup.
Tony Joyce’s charges were hard-pushed against a Fermanagh side, who were cast aside the weekend previously as Lancashire recorded their first ever win, until a late flourish that saw Paul Uniacke get a hattrick within five minutes, as well as a flurry of points from starman Liam Watson and Shane Caulfield.
London had the opposite result in their knock-out championship tie as their 2017 campaign came to a close after a six-point loss to Down in the Christy Ring Cup.
Lancashire’s quest to make Croke Park notice their improvement on the field continues, as the Exiles were extremely unlucky to lose by just a point deep into injury time against Leitrim, who travel to face Warwickshire this weekend.
Earnest Ernesiders no match for Warwickshire’s Six-Appeal
By Larry Cooney at Brewster Park, Enniskillen
Warwickshire hurlers are on the brink of a return to Croke Park for the first time in four years after a sixteen-point victory over Fermanagh at sun-drenched Enniskillen last Saturday afternoon. But this was no ‘walk in Brewster Park’ for the Exiles who were pushed all the way by the hosts for almost an hour before a late hattrick of goals from Paul Uniacke gave the scoreboard a very lob-sided and unbalanced look at the final whistle.
However it was the display of Warwickshire talisman Liam Watson who once again caught the eye after delivering arguably his best display of the year so far for the Exiles. The former Antrim star really rolled back the years with a vintage display that left the valiant Fermanagh defence chasing shadows for much of the encounter as well as helping himself to a personal tally of 3-8, including 3-4 from play.
Another miserable day for Fermanagh hurling also ended with the Ernemen finishing with fourteen players after Conor McShea received a double yellow card near the end of normal time. Playing with the aid of a cross-wind in the opening half, while defending the scoreboard end, the hosts got off to a bright start after Liam Watson pointed an opening minute free for the Exiles.
From the puck-out the ball broke in midfield to Fermanagh wing back Francis McBrien who immediately hit a long-range equalising point.
And under pressure Warwickshire midfield partnership also lost their own puck-out which eventually found menacing corner forward Sean Corrigan who duly rounded his marker to run at the Exiles’ defence before rattling the net with a pile-driver.
Corrigan’s goal was soon followed by a pointed free in the fourth minute for a four-point lead for the hosts. But all that early advantage was undone a minute later when a goal-keeping blunder gifted possession to the lurking Liam Watson for him to hit the first of his three goals in the fifth minute. And although Fermanagh’s Ciaran Corrigan and team captain Ryan Bogue were dominating the midfield exchanges the hosts failed to capitalise in the next five minutes with Sean Corrigan adding just one more pointed free in the ninth minute.
The hosts also replaced centre back Mark Slevin with Thomas Clery with Francis McBrien switching to mark Warwickshire’s Shane Caulfield on the 40.
However with Warwickshire’s half-back line, splendidly marshalled by centre back Paul Hoban, finally getting to grips with the Fermanagh attack the visitors eventually turned the tide to hit an unanswered 1-5 in the next eight minutes.
Two pointed frees from Sean Hennessy and a point from Ian Dwyer in addition to another 1-2 from Liam Watson propelled the visitors to a 2-6 to 1-3 lead before a mini flare-up in the 27th minute saw Conor Robbins and Conor Mc- Shea join the players on yellow cards. And with Warwickshire being outscored by 1-2 to 0- 2 for the reminder of the half the visitors realised that they could not afford to take ‘their feet off the gas’ as a competitive and entertaining game began to unfold.
Fermanagh’s second goal from John Duffy just before the interval proved to be a very welcome psychological boost for the hosts to take to the dressing room as the first-half ended on a score-line of: Warwickshire 2-8 Fermanagh 2-5.
Fermanagh’s second goal clearly injected new self-belief in the hosts who were fully intent on wiping out Warwickshire’s halftime advantage without delay. The visitors were indeed most grateful to their goal-keeper Michael Cremin for an early save from John Paul McGarry that resulted in a ’65. But after a Sean Corrigan pointed free cut the deficit to two points four minutes after the re-start, Liam Watson completed his hat-trick a minute later with another piece of sublime finishing.
However the hosts were far from finished and despite falling 3-8 to 2-6 in arrears they still kept Warwickshire on the backfoot.
And that pressure was rewarded in the forty-second minute when lanky full forward John Paul Mc- Garry somehow managed to turn and hit a third Fermanagh goal before a Sean Corrigan point really made it ‘game-on’ once again with just a single point between the teams. But crucially the hosts were never able to draw level as points from Shane Caulfield and a Liam Watson pointed free opened up a three-point ‘breathing space’ lead for the visitors by the end of the third quarter.
Entering the final quarter the outcome was still very uncertain until the Warwickshire mentors made a crucial switch by moving an out of sorts Paul Uniacke into the attack and moving Conor Robins and later substitute Joe Meagher to midfield.
After Liam Watson and Sean Corrigan traded points with eleven minutes remaining Paul Uniacke gained possession from a puck-out to run at the Fermanagh defence and hit a decisive fourth goal for the Exiles.
Points from Watson and Caulfield suddenly opened up an eight-point lead before Uniacke struck for his second goal and with Joe Meagher and Colm McBride now also joining the action the Fermanagh defence was in complete disarray when Uniacke struck for his hat-trick with six minutes remaining.
Warwickshire completed the scoring with points from a Liam Watson free, Colm McBride and Sean Hennessy in reply to Sean Corrigan’s seventh point.
WARWICKSHIRE: Michael Cremin; Dean Bruen, Willie Allen, Michael O’Reagan; John Collins, Paul Hoban, Donncha Kennedy (capt.); Paul Uniacke, Kelvin McGee; Ian Dwyer, Shane Caulfield, Conor Robins; Sean Hennessy, Liam Watson, Paraic Crehan. SUBS: Joe Meagher for Conor Robbins 62, Colm McBride for Ian Dwyer 62, Robbie Curley for Donncha Kennedy 68, Colm Brown for Liam Watson 68, Tom Kelly for Sean Hennessy 69.
FERMANAGH: Mark Curry; David Teague, Diarmaid Russell, Andrew Breslin; Francis McBrien, Mark Slevin, Matthew Teague; Ciaran Corrigan, Ryan Bogue (capt.); John Duffy, Shea Curran, Brendan Mc- Garry; Conor McShea, John Paul McGarry, Sean Corrigan. SUBS: Thomas Cleary for Mark Slevin 15, Eoin Cleary for John Duffy 61, Aaron McGee for Sean Corrigan 68.
REFEREE: Kevin Brady (Louth)