Hurling in Lancashire will take another big stride forward on Sunday when the county team play Fermanagh in Division 3B (2pm), in Lancashire’s first-ever excursion into the National Hurling League.
After last year’s historic championship victory over Fermanagh at Old Bedians – the first championship fixture played in Manchester and first-ever win – Stan Murray Hession’s side will look to keep the momentum going this year.
Having been competing in the Lory Meagher Cup for the past three years, it’s another significant step in the development of Lancashire, and one their manager says will help put the county on the map.
Unable to play their home league fixtures at Old Bedians, however, due to the risk of flooding and the lack of an alternative pitch, Lancashire will instead play their home games against Fermanagh and Cavan at Tir Na nOg Randalstown in Antrim.
Following Fermanagh, Lancashire then travel to Leitrim. They finish their league campaign with an away trip to Sligo. Their hardest two fixtures, on paper at least, against Sligo and Leitrim are away from home.
With Fermanagh and Cavan, who Lancashire also beat in last year’s championship, on neutral ground, it promises to be a challenging campaign for Lancashire.
— LancsGAAofficial (@lancsGAAofficia) January 23, 2018
Four games, though, which will hopefully set the county up for this year’s Lory Meagher Cup. Having failed to win a championship game in 2015 or 2016, Lancashire finally broke their duck in 2017, and they’ll be optimistic of carrying that momentum into the league.
While 2018 will be just Cavan’s second year competing in the National League, Murray-Hession fully expects them to “come on” after last year’s experience.
They’re led by the Sheanon brothers, Colum, John and Cillian, who won All-Ireland club medals with Dublin’s Cuala on St. Patrick’s Day, and went on to help Dublin’s Cuala retain their senior county title for a third consecutive year.
Leitrim led Warwickshire by two points in the Lory Meagher final, before the midlanders asserted themselves in the second half, and will be tough opposition particularly in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Fermanagh are going through something of a transition. They’ve “lost a few good players” Murray-Hession understands, and therefore could have a youthful look to their side this year.
Lancashire draw their players from Fullen Gaels, Wolfe Tones and Yorkshire Emeralds. Manchester’s Fullen Gaels dominated the All Britain, winning seven in a row between 2010-16 and twice reached the All Ireland Club JHC final.
The club has provided the backbone of the county team, and contributed heavily to Warwickshire’ 2013 Lory Meagher success, but Liverpool’s Wolfe Tones and Leeds’ Yorkshire Emeralds are two clubs on the up.
Given all of that, and the events of last year, Murray-Hession is optimistic that Lancashire can make an impact both in the league and the championship this year.
“We’re hopeful that given the opportunity we’ve got in the National League we can really kick on this year, and push Lancashire hurling forward in a big way,” he said.