By Damian Dolan
Lancashire hurling manager Stan Murray-Hession expects there to be no more than a “puck of a ball” between his charges and Leitrim, when they lock horns at Croke Park on 22 June for the Lory Meagher Cup.
Lancashire’s 1-27 to 1-7 victory over Cavan in Ballyconnell last Saturday secured their return to Croker, 12 months after their narrow loss to Sligo.
Lancashire never looked under threat against a depleted Cavan after constructing a wind-assisted 1-16 to 1-3 half-time lead, with Darren Crowley, JJ Dunphy and Tommy Maher among the visitors’ players queuing up to put their name on the scoresheet.
Talisman Ronan Crowley was in terrific form for the Exiles once again, amassing a personal tally of 1-14.
The victory saw Lancashire top the Lory Meagher Cup table, and leave Cavan without a win in 2019.
Their final opponents, Leitrim, defeated Fermanagh by 2-18 to 1-16 in Carrick-on-Shannon, having needed to win by five clear points. A result which saw the Erne Men miss out on points difference.
“There’s never much in it and my guess is there won’t be much between us on 22 June,” Murry-Hession told the Irish World. “I just hope there’s a bit more on our side.
“We’ve achieved what we set out to, which was to get back to the final. It was a very satisfying day.”
Lancashire defeated Leitrim by two points (0-20 to 1-15) when the sides’ met in Manchester last month in Round 1, with Leitrim manager Martin Cunniffe publicly critical of the lack of neutral umpires or linesmen.
Murray-Hession says he wasn’t surprised that Cunniffe’s Leitrim got the result they needed against Fermanagh.
“Leitrim are seasoned, wily campaigners and they know how to win and get over the line,” he said.
For Lancashire, 22 June will be a chance to make amends for their last-gasp defeat to Sligo in last year’s final, although Murray-Hession says the events of 12 months ago will have no bearing.
“You have to live in the now. Yes, we know the run of the place (Croke Park), we know the dressing rooms etc, but the majority of that Leitrim team have played there too,” said Murray-Hession.
Leitrim reached the final in 2017 where they lost out to Tony Joyce’s Warwickshire.
The Lancashire boss added: “They know their way round Croke Park every bit as well, and probably better, than we do.”
The motivation for Lancashire’s comprehensive victory over Cavan was their “disappointing” second round loss to Fermanagh at Brewster Park, and not just the chance for a Croker return.
Murray-Hession accused his players of lacking hunger against the Erne Men.
“We were really up for it [against Cavan]. We were on a bit of a mission after the match against Fermanagh – we were very disappointed with the way we played that day. We let ourselves down,” he said.
“We’ve done a lot of soul-searching over the last two weeks, put in a right shift in training and it paid off.
“There was no way we were going to come out of Cavan without one hell of a fight.”
It was the team’s work ethic and decision-making which pleased Murray-Hession most against Cavan, and he felt his side played “very well”.
“We worked significantly better as a team today, than we did against Fermanagh. That was the key to the performance,” he added.
The Lancashire manager said he won’t be changing the team’s preparations for the final – despite last year’s loss to Sligo. Instead they’ll “stick” to their tried and trusted routines.
“We won’t change anything – they’ve stood us in good stead so far this year,” he said.
Lancashire: R McAteer; O McMahon, C Larkin, S Moloney; D Power (0-1), G Jacob, T Lee; C Doherty (0-1), T Maher (0-3); D Crowley (0-2), D Maskey, JJ Dunphy (0-3); C Duggan (0-1), J Cleere, R Crowley (1-14, 8f). Subs: D O’Brien (0-1) for Duggan (59min), E Kelly for Maskey (60min), D Duffy for J Cleere (65min), E Doyle (0-1) for Doherty (66min), J Hughes for Dunphy (66min).
Cavan: D Sheridan; N Neary, C Kelly (0-1), D Crudden; P Devine, M Hynes, M Moffett (0-1); D Brady, M Smith; J Carney, H Briody, C Carney (0-1); C McEntee, A Sheridan (1-4, 3f), A Hamilton. Subs: F Williams for Carney (29min), D Neary for McEntee (55min).
Referee: Thomas Gleeson (Dublin).