Warwickshire hurlers unbeaten run can take them back to Croker
By Damian Dolan
Warwickshire hurling manager Tony Joyce has called on his side to keep their unbeaten run going, and reach another Croke Park final.
Lory Meagher Cup champions in 2017, the Exiles made it two wins from two in the Nicky Rackard Cup with a 1-21 to 3-11 victory over Monaghan at Pairc na hEireann on Saturday.
The win stretched their unbeaten run in championship and league to 14 matches, stretching back to their Division 3B final defeat to Longford on April 2, 2017, and including this year’s Division 3A success.
“We want to try and keep the winning run going. We’re going well; the boys are flying and we don’t want to let that go,” Joyce told the Irish World.
“I keep thinking every week ‘when it going to end’, but the lads keep coming up trumps. It’s in our own hands now. No one can catch us if we beat Longford.”
Warwickshire round off their Nicky Rackard Group 1 campaign in Longford on June 2 knowing that victory will not only send them through to the last four, but will guarantee them a coveted home semi-final in Birmingham.
It will also take them one step closer to making it back-to-back championship titles.
Joyce added: “Two get two [championships] out of two would be unreal. I said last year that just to get to Croker in my first year would be brilliant. To get there and experience the day was my main aim, and it was a fantastic day. But when you get there you want to win it.
“If someone had said that in our second year we’d have to win two matches and we’d be back at Croke Park, you’d bite their hand off.
“We had so much fun there [last year] it would be great to go back. It’s a really special achievement and it’s recognition for all of the hard work behind the scenes.”
While a narrow defeat in Longford should still be enough to send Joyce’s charges through, they’ll be keeping their “foot to the floor” to wrap up top spot in Group 1 and set up a home semi-final with either Leitrim or Tyrone, with Donegal having already having wrapped up the three-team Group 2.
Warwickshire full back Dean Bruen had to be replaced in the first half agianst Monaghan after sustaining an arm injury, but Joyce expects him to be available to face Longford.
The influential Paul Uniacke missed the Monaghan game after picking up a dead-leg, but should return for the Round 3 trip.
When the sides met in Birmingham in February, Warwickshire got the better of Longford by six points. They lost all five of their league games, but Warwickshire will be wary following Longford’s shock win over Louth last weekend.
“Louth were the team to beat, now they’ve gone to the wayside a little bit. Longford beating them by seven points has thrown the whole thing up in the air,” said Joyce, who would prefer to avoid a semi-final trip to Donegal.
“Longford have a chance now….and now they’ve got a sniff they’ll be gunning for us.
“It’s a fair bit of traveling for the team that comes here and Pairc na hEireann is a tough place when it’s dry. It’s like concrete. Teams find it difficult, but we’d be well used to it. And we get great [home] support.
“There are just so many ifs and buts. It’s all to play for. You just can’t take your foot off the gas.”
— Official Warwickshire GAA (@warwickshireclg) May 19, 2018
Having stormed into a healthy early lead against Monaghan, Warwickshire saw their advantage whittled down by the time half-time arrived following a couple of late first half goals from the visitors.
With 15 minutes to go, they then found themselves trailing by a point, only to finish strongly.
Joyce said: “We found a bit of impetuous with ten minutes to go and we drove on and hit three or four [points] unanswered. We finished very strongly, so I’m very happy.
“It was a tough, tough battle in the heat. Monaghan are well-drilled. They pushed us all the way.”