Division 3B winners can build on their impressive league success Lory Meagher Cup
By Larry Cooney
Lancashire’s hurlers will be hoping to make it fourth time lucky when they begin their Lory Meagher Cup campaign at Old Bedian’s ground on Saturday.
Stan Murray-Hession’s charges go into the championship in confident mood after enjoying an unbeaten run in their debut league campaign, which culminated in a seven-point victory over Leitrim in the decider in Ballyconnell on March 25.
No mean feat given all five of their league games were played in Ireland.
Having already secured an impressive nine-point victory over the men from the Yeats County in Markievicz Park on their way to winning the league, Lancashire will be very familiar with Saturday’s opposition, although league form is not always reliable when it comes to predicting a championship encounter.
When the sides met in the opening round of last year’s Lory Meagher, Sligo came out on top by nine points. Lancashire are a very different animal now however.
One side they won’t have to concern themselves with in this year’s competition is Leitrim, after last year’s beaten finalists were promoted to the Nicky Rackard.
2017 was Lancashire’s best performance in the Lory Meagher and even saw them record their first victory at home, to Fermanagh on April 29. A landmark day for the county.
In their first two years in the Lory Meagher, Lancashire struggled, despite being powered by a number of members of the Fullen Gaels club, which reached two All-Ireland club finals.
Lancashire lost all their eight games over the 2015 and 2016 seasons, and ended with a points difference of -25 and -55 respectively.
But last year, with the emergence of ace Cork marksman Ronan Crowley and the leadership of experienced Wexford native Greg Jacob, Lancashire’s fortunes began to change.
That translated itself into that historic victory over Fermanagh, which they followed up by beating an improving Cavan side by three points.
The Exiles also ‘locked horns’ with Cavan in this year’s league campaign in a third round clash on a very wet Sunday afternoon on the grounds of the University of Ulster in Jordanstown. Lancashire won by nine points.
Although it looked a straightforward victory on paper for the Red Roses, the men from Breffni proved to be very stubborn opposition and with the Cuala-based Sheanon brothers Colm, John and Killian set to join their ranks Lancashire can expect a hot reception when they return to Ballyconnell for their second round clash on May 26.
Lancashire complete their Lory Meagher Cup group fixtures with a visit to Brewster Park, Enniskillen, to face Fermanagh on June 9.
Although they have beaten the Ernesiders in their previous two meetings, including their clash on a 4G pitch in Allen Park, Randalstown Co. Antrim, earlier this year on their league debut, Fermanagh are usually formidable opposition on home ‘turf’.
But on this occasion it is unlikely that Fermanagh will have the ability to close the gap in class between the two teams.
Unlike their involvement in the recent league competition Lancashire have had an opportunity to get in some serious preparation for their forthcoming three group games, and a campaign that should extend to a semi-final at least.
Training has been scheduled three times a week in Manchester and Newcastle, and one collective session for the entire group.
But apart from the admirable dedication of all players and manager Stan Murray-Hession, trainer Paddy Hoey has also been a huge commitment to the promotion of Lancashire hurling over the past three years.
For Coventry-based Paddy, a usual training session also involves a 200 mile trip. The Clare native confirmed that the playing panel has remained unchanged from the recent league campaign.
“Training has gone well since the league final and there is no change in the playing squad ahead of the start of the Lory Meagher Cup competition,” Hoey told the Irish World.
“Everyone is focused on the Sligo match which will be a tough start for us, but we have had the benefit of playing them last February and it will be great to open the competition with our only home game.”
It will be interesting to see what the management has learned about the squad in the aftermath of their league success. Although Crowley, fourth top scorer in the league, deservedly hit the headlines there were a number of other members of the panel who played key roles in the Exiles’ success.
The late switch of impressive full-back Edmund Kenny to the Lancashire attack in the league decider against Leitrim proved to be a master-stroke by the management, and was mainly responsible for forcing extra-time.
Kenny along with Greg Jacob, midfielders James Fitzmaurice and Stephen Duncan, centre back Tommy Duane and full forward Martin Hawley formed a strong spine, and are unlikely to be disrupted.
In addition, JJ Dunphy and wing back Nathan Unwin were also particularly impressive, with Unwin hitting a winning point against Leitrim in Ballinamore.
Much will depend on the result their two away fixtures and particularly their return visit to Ballyconnell to face the Breffni men, who if they do win their opening game against Fermanagh, will fancy their chances of getting a result.
But in the final analysis Lancashire are the form team in this year’s Lory Meagher Cup and anything less than a Croke Park appearance on June 23 would be a major disappointment.