Shackles off and all guns blazing

Gun blazing Warwickshire release shackles
Warwickshire’s Niall McKenna with the Nicky Rackard Cup at the unveiling of the Joe McDonagh and the launch of the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cup Finals at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

By Damian Dolan

Warwickshire manager Tony Joyce says they’ll be no holding back when the Midlanders face Donegal in Saturday’s Nicky Rackard Cup decider (throw in 4pm).

Twelve months after lifting the Lory Meagher Cup, Warwickshire return to Croker looking for back-to-back championships, and Joyce is adamant the Exiles will carry on from where they left off against Tyrone, and will be going all-out attack.

“You’ve only got once chance, you have to throw caution to the wind and go for it. You’ve really got to play your best,” Joyce told the Irish World.

“During the group stage we were watching ourselves to make sure we kept everybody fit and to try and time our run.

“But once we got into semi-final…..we talked about it in the dressing room against Tyrone. The shackles are definitely off.”

Prior to Warwickshire’s 11-point semi-final win over the Red Hand, Joyce learnt through the media of Tyrone’s intention to employ a sweeper. Something the Exiles won’t be found doing on Saturday.

Guns blazing

Joyce added: “I wouldn’t be worried about Donegal in that respect. It’s too negative and gets into players heads. We’ll be going out-all guns blazing and we’ll let them worry about us.”

Victory over Tyrone took Warwickshire’s unbeaten run to 16 matches – a run stretching back to their NHL Division 3B final defeat to Longford in April 2017.

A win on Saturday wouldn’t just secure historic back-to-back titles, but would take them level with Tipperary on 17. Leaving them with Kilkenny in their sights, who managed 21.

Croke Park is definitely not the place for that run to come to an end.

“Every match is so crucial to keep it going. We need to get to 17 and then take Kilkenny on for the 21,” said Joyce.

One of the key factors behind the run, for Joyce, has been the ability to summon three or four from the bench who can “make a difference” should they “run into trouble”.

Gun blazing Warwickshire release shackles
The Warwickshire team

“That sometimes changes a game, and we’ve been in trouble a few times,” added Joyce, whose side have already enjoyed league success this year by winning Division 3A.

Louth in the league is a case in point when the Exiles finished the game with 13-men, but somehow salvaged a draw in Darvar thanks to a last-gasp Paul Hoban free.

But it’s also the attention to detail of Joyce and his management team, and the inherent will of the players ‘to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’.

“The longer the run goes the hungrier we are to keep it going. The company we’re keeping with Kilkenny and Tipperary is great, and we want to keep it going. It’s history; we don’t fear anybody in Division 2B.”

Division 2B is the home of Donegal, after they won Division 3A in 2017. They didn’t look out of place in 2B with wins over Derry, Down and Armagh to finish mid-table.

Free scoring

Joyce admits that Donegal have been “scoring freely”, easing past Leitrim and Tyrone before hammering Monaghan by an impressive 21 points in the semi-finals. A side Warwickshire had edged out by just four points in Birmingham.

But with the shackles off, Warwickshire showed what they can do against Tyrone and Joyce is confident the Midlanders have the firepower to match Donegal.

“The final will be a straight shoot-out between us,” he said.

“If you’ve two teams evenly matched, the team that turns up on the day will always win. I believe we’ll be ready for it and we’ll ultimately win the game.

“We really had to hit form in the semi-final with Tyrone and we did, winning by 11 points.”

Warwickshire can also draw on last year’s Lory Meagher Cup winning experience, when as Joyce admits the tag of favourites against Leitrim “weighed heavy” on the team. On Saturday, that experience will surely stand to them.

Underage legacy

“We had to calm the players down at half-time, re-adjust and make a few positional changes to get back in control,” said Joyce, who is also acutely aware of the bigger picture and the impact the team’s success is having on underage hurling within the county.

The players are fast becoming idolised for their exploits, and with scores of kids out hurling across Warwickshire on a Wednesday night, a lasting legacy will be this team’s greatest triumph.

“We’ve got to leave something from what we’ve achieved,” implores Joyce.

Win, lose or draw on Saturday, they’re already doing that. But as they’re there, they may as well go and win the thing!

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