By Damian Dolan
Warwickshire need no greater motivation going into Sunday’s All-Britain Inter-County JFC final (Pairc na hEirenan, 1pm) with Scotland than the knowledge that it’s 13 years since the county’s footballers were the toast of Britain.
Bridesmaids in five of the past 11 finals, Warwickshire were well beaten by Kilkenny last year and in 2017. The county’s hunger for a provincial title is therefore immense.
They have the chance to end their long wait on Sunday, but will be wary says manager Josh Harnett of a Scotland side which achieved in their semi-final what no one else had managed since 2016, get the better of Kilkenny.
Warwickshire were beaten by Kilkenny by 21 points in last year’s final and 16 points in 2017, and the holders exit has “hyped” up Sunday’s final even more for Warwickshire.
“On both occasions we just knew we’d come up against a better team. We were a good team, but they were just better. They were really strong,” Harnett told the Irish World.
From Coventry’s Roger Casements, Harnett is in his first year in the job, aided by Brendan Harkin (Four Masters) and JP Walsh (John Mitchel’s).
It was a depleted Warwickshire side which suffered another heavy defeat to Kilkenny (19 points) in Round 1 of the group stage, only to book their place in the semis with wins over Lancashire and London.
They had just two points to spare over Lancashire in Pairc na hEireann (3-14 to 3-12) thanks to second half goals from Jack Keogh and Stephen Keogh.
Goals from Jack Keogh and Joe Owens helped them to a 2-10 to 1-10 win over London. But the result became irrelevant for Warwickshire after 20 minutes with news of Lancashire’s defeat to Kilkenny reaching Ruislip, although Harnettt admits he “never told the lads”.
Their semi-final with Lancashire proved surprisingly one-sided – Warwickshire storming into the final on the back of a 6-21 to 1-6 victory. Warwickshire just “clicked”.
Harnett said: “Everything just went right; they played into our hands a bit by playing a sweeper and that freed up one of our better players. They invited us onto them and it just clicked.”
🥳 THANK YOU📣
We can’t believe it. We want to sincerely thank everyone who supported our campaign to make it to the All Britain Final this Sunday. Without your generousity we could not have reached our goal. The GAA is a fantastic community. 🙌🏼 pic.twitter.com/vdWBgMnOuH
— Scotland GAA (@ScotlandGAA) June 25, 2019
Harnett’s side had six different goal scorers – James Loney (1-2), Conor Lenihan (1-0), Gareth Macken (1-2), Conal Dowling (1-2), Jack Keogh (1-10, 1-7f) and Ethan Mannion (1-0).
Harnett, though, says he’s just building on the work of his predecessor Eamonn Hanlon.
An impressive two thirds of his panel is ‘homegrown’ – blended with a few “steady Irish lads” – with ten of the 15 that started against Lancashire born in Warwickshire.
It’s a testament to the “underage potential” and hard work that’s gone on for years in the county at youth level.
Three of that panel were part of the Warwickshire side beaten by Scotland in the 2014 final at Pairc na hEireann – the Scots’ only previous inter-county provincial title – Niall Gilbride, Michael Harrigan and Brian Rushe.
Scotland – who raised £2k on GoFundMe to take part in Sunday’s final – have four survivors from their 2014 provincial winning team, half forward Daniel Loftus of Dunedin Connolly’s, wing back Brian McAteer (Connolly’s) and Paddy Brady of Tir Chonaill Harps.
Midfielder Daniel O’Brien (Connolly’s) was also part of the panel and is vice captain this year.
At the outset, Scotland manager Diarmuid McNulty had said he wanted the team to put some pride back in the county jersey. One might suggest they’ve already done that just by beating Kilkenny in Glasgow, but the lure now is for first title in five years.
It’s also a Scotland team, that unlike last year when there was no Connolly’s involvement, is truly representative of the county’s club – Glasgow Gaels, Dalriada, Connolly’s and Tir Chonaill Harps all feature.
“We’ve a committed bunch of boys who are very focused and we’ve a Connolly’s cohort this year who’ve won British titles at club level, but most haven’t won a British title at county level,” McNulty told the Irish World.
Having trailed Kilkenny by two at the break, Adrian Dawson’s (Glasgow Gaels) early second half goal proved key, as the home pulled away to win by 1-15 to 0-11.
Next Sunday. 30th. June
All-Britain Junior County Football Championship Final.
Pairc Na hEireann 1pm.
Scotland Vs Warwickshire
— Britain GAA (@BPCGAA) June 23, 2019
A shock result for some maybe, but if anyone was capable of ending Kilkenny’s three-in-a-row hopes, it was Scotland.
It was also just the team’s second game. They beat Hertfordshire in Group B by 1-14 to 1-7 in Glasgow – David Comiskey with the goal – and were then involved in walkovers with Yorkshire and Gloucestershire.
McNulty is fully aware of his team’s lack of games, as they prepare to face a battle-hardened Warwickshire team who’ve seen action four times.
“Yes, we’re probably a wee bit fresh and in the heat of the battle a wee bit raw, so it will be interesting to see how it gels on the big day,” said McNulty.
“But the squad is starting to blend and we’re looking forward to it. We’ve worked hard this year to get everyone together and singing off the same hymn sheet, so it would be nice to do the business.”