GAA: Warwickshire hurlers return to Croke Park

GAA Warwickshire hurlers Croke Park
The Lory Meagher Cup. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

2017 Lory Meagher Cup Final

Warwickshire’s hurlers return to Croke Park this weekend for the first time in four years bidding for a second Lory Meagher Cup.

Tony Joyce’s side, drawn from Midlands clubs John Mitchel’s and Erin go Bragh (Birmingham), Roger Casement’s (Coventry) and St. Barnabas (Nottingham) take on final debutants Leitrim in this Saturday’s decider aiming to become the first Warwickshire team since 2013 to bring silverware back across the Irish Sea.

Warwickshire will arrive as favourites against the Westerners, who have made great strides under the management of Martin Cunniffe, who are also powered by his son Clement Cunniffe – one of Leitrim’s most influential players.

While Warwickshire had a disappointing end to their Division 3B league campaign this year with an extra-time defeat to Longford in the final, they have bounced back well with an unbeaten run to reach the final. That eight-point victory was enough for the Exiles to clinch a return to Croke Park, ahead of their five-point victory over Lancashire in the final round, and secure a top of the table place on a +60 points difference.

GAA Warwickshire hurlers Croke Park
Warwickshire management Steve Ahern, Tony Joyce. John Gardiner and Des Kelly

Three of Warwickshire’s qualifying matches were away from Pairc na hEireann unlike Leitrim who lost both of their away fixtures including a one-point loss to Fermanagh in Enniskillen in the opening round. But Leitrim finished their campaign on a high with a seven-point victory over neighbours and last year’s defeated finalists Sligo.

But unlike Warwickshire the Westerners will be unable to boast the kind of Croke Park experience that can be crucial on the big stage.

Man-of-the-match

Apart from six of the current panel bidding for their second Lory Meagher Cup medal the current Warwickshire team includes two former Galway All-Ireland minor final winners and 2012 All-Ireland Club final winner Liam Watson.

The form of Warwickshire’s top scorer and former Antrim star Liam Watson will be crucial for the Exiles success. The Glensman has given a number of man-of-the-match displays so Leitrim will be well aware of the attacking threat he poses.

GAA Warwickshire hurlers Croke Park
All Ireland medallist and former Antrim hurler Liam Watson

Watson with 5-25 is this year’s second highest scorer in the competition. But where will Liam Watson be best deployed in Croke Park? Although he usually wears the number 14 jersey he does most of his best work in midfield with Kelvin McGee usually switching to the fringe of the square. But Warwickshire are far from being a one-man team.

The addition of Paul Uniacke since their league campaign has been a huge difference in midfield and the Galway man has also proved to be quite an effective finisher.

Consistent performances

However it is the consistent performances Warwickshire’s spine from full-back Willie Allen, centre-back Paul Hoban, centre-forward Shane Caulfield and Liam Watson that has really made them a team playing well above Lory Meagher Cup standard hurling.

And unless Leitrim can manage to nullify some of these match-ups it is difficult to make a case for them winning a Lory Meagher Cup at their first attempt. Leitrim’s main attacking threat comes from top scorer Padraig O’Donnell, Clement Cunniffe, Com Moreton and the remarkable Zak Moradi.

Moradi is an Iraqi-born corner forward with a Dublin accent who hurls out of the Thomas Davis club. The midfield battle will also be very interesting with James Glancy hoping to give Leitrim the edge in this crucial sector.

With momentum and an abundance of ability clearly favouring the Exiles it would be extremely disappointing if they were to lose a second final this year.


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