By Damian Dolan
After opening their NHL Div 3B league campaign with a seven-point win over Cavan at Abbotstown, Lancashire’s hurlers head to Lory Meagher Cup favourites Sligo on Saturday with “absolutely nothing to lose”, says manager Stan Murray-Hession.
It will be the sides’ first meeting since the Yeats men left it late to break Lancashire hearts in the 2018 Lory Meagher Cup final at Croke Park.
Kevin Gilmartin’s last-gasp goal gave Sligo a victory they used as a springboard to propel them to Nicky Rackard success last year.
“It’s a free weekend for us; we can go out and hurl and do what we want to do. The result’s a bonus,” Murray-Hession told the Irish World after last Saturday’s win.
“Some of our lads don’t know each other yet. They hadn’t played a game of hurling together for the county team until today.”
It’s part of the reason why, for Murray-Hession, Saturday’s game is not about revenge for Lancashire.
“It’s 2020, it’s not 2018. What happened two years ago makes no difference. You can’t change history,” he said.
— the Irish World (@theirishworld) January 25, 2020
Sligo’s championship successes, though, havn’t been mirrored in the league – they were beaten by Longford in last year’s the Div 3B decider. Not surprisingly, they’re odds on to win promotion to Div 3A this year.
“They’re playing at a much higher level,” added Murray-Hession.
“The speed at which they move the ball will be faster. If we can keep anyway close [within ten points] then I’ll be happy.”
While Daithí Hand’s Sligo received an opening weekend ‘bye’, Murray-Hession’s charges belied their less than ideal preparations to make a winning start against Cavan at the GAA Centre of Excellence in Abbottstown – Lancashire’s ‘home’ ground for the league.
It was Lancashire’s fourth straight win over the Breffini, in league and championship, going back to 2017, but Murray-Hession admits it “wasn’t [one] for the purists”.
Playing their first game of 2020, Murray-Hession was particularly pleased with the fighting qualities shown by his team, as they “ground a result out”.
Especially after they were reduced to 14-men, when Greg Jacob saw red for a high challenge, with 26 minutes still to go and the ‘home’ side leading by just four points.
But Lancashire kept their shape and “dug in”.
“We showed some serious character, and a will not to give in, to get over the line,” said the Lancashire boss.
“The game should bring us on a lot – we’re in a better place than we were last year fitness wise – but will it bring us on enough for Sligo? Probably not.”
Murray-Hession predicts they’ll have to win three games to have a chance of getting through to the final, and that means beating either Sligo or Leitrim, in their own backyards. Provided, of course, that they can beat Fermanagh.
“We’ll fight to the bitter end; any team that beats us this year is going to be made to work for it,” he said.
“We have a resolve now in the team that under no circumstances are we going to be turned over by anyone.”
Lancashire led Cavan by 0-6 to 0-4 at the interval. The intensity levels increased after the break, culminating in Jacob’s sending off, but a minute later Caoimhín Quigley forced Cavan’s goalkeeper into a good stop.
Quigley added a point to increase the Lancashire lead to 0-11 to 0-6 and they were able to see the game out from there, with Cavan unable to exploit their extra man.
Lancashire: R McAteer; K Fennelly, E Kelly, C Larkin; S Moloney, G Jacob, D Power; S Duncan, T Maher (0-1); R Spencer (0-3, 3f), JJ Dunphy, D McKenna; D Maskey, E Kenny (0-2), S Dunne (0-1). Subs: C Quigley (0-6, 5f) for D Maskey (h-t); L Knocker for C Larkin (52min); R Crowley (0-1) for E Kenny (58min); C Duggan for R Spencer (58min); D Connolly (0-1) for S Dunne (61min).
Cavan: N Clerkin: B Nannery, D Crudden, M Moffett; C Kelly, M Hynes, F Williams; Cillian Sheanon, D Madden; M Hayes, Colm Sheanon (0-1), D Carney (0-4, ’65, 2f); A Sheridan (0-2, 2f), L Óg Cooke, F Hughes. Subs: J Barry for F Williams (4min); E Dalton (0-1) for F Hughes (18min); J Holland for L Óg Cooke (h-t); E Shalvey for D Crudden (61min); A Baldwin for D Carney (62min).
Referee: N Wall (Cork).
Additional reporting by Kevin Carney