By Damian Dolan
Peadar Scally believes Warwickshire’s 37-point defeat to Kildare in Newbridge was not a true reflection of this Warwickshire hurling team.
Judge them on their performance against Wicklow says the former Westmeath U21 and Minor player, and they’ll be out to make that point on Sunday against Down at Pairc na hEireann (1:15pm).
Warwickshire and Scally welcome Down to Pairc na hEireann eager to get their humbling at St. Conleth’s Park out of their system.
On the playing front, they’ll be reinforced by the return of Niall Kennedy, Micheal O’Regan and Willie Allen – all of whom missed the ‘nightmare in Newbridge’.
All three were members of last year’s Warwickshire side which won Division 3A and reached the Nicky Rackard Cup final.
Their absence against Kildare – Christy Ring Cup winners in 2018 – was compounded by the long-term loss of centre back Paul Hoban, star forward Niall McKenna, Shane Caulfield and Paul Uniacke. All huge losses.
That Warwickshire didn’t use a substitute for the whole 70 minutes plus in Newbridge, told its own story.
“To be fair to Kildare they were a step ahead of us. Full credit to them, they were fairly ruthless,” Scally told the Irish World.
“It’s just the way it worked out with lads away on holiday and working, we were short. It was just unfortunate that it happened to fall on the weekend we playing probably the best team in the league.
“We’ll just try and learn as much as we can from it and build on it. Not that you can learn a whole lot from a game like that.”
It was in sharp contrast to the Exiles’ Round 1 clash with Wicklow in Birmingham, when Chris Brough’s men slugged it out with the Christy Ring semi-finalists.
Just two points separated the sides when Warwickshire’s Niall Kennedy was sent off early in the second half, and the Lilywhites seized upon that to ease to a 2-21 to 0-12 victory. The final scoreline scarcely told the tale.
For Scally, that display is a far “better reflection” of what this Warwickshire team is capable of.
“We only started back training at the start of January, but we went toe-to-toe with Wicklow, who’ve been playing since the middle of November,” he said.
“The more training and game time we get it, the more we’re improving every week.
“I’d be hoping the game against Down would be an improvement on Wicklow – Wicklow is the benchmark. And even in that game we were missing John Collins.
“If we had the same side as last year, I think we’d be well able to go toe-to-toe with Kildare, but that’s the way it is.”
Scally will line up against Down on this weekend, but he could so easily have been back at Croke Park.
From Clonkill in Co Westmeath, he was part of Warwickshire’s league success and march to the Nicky Rackard final, before going onto help John Mitchel’s win a first provincial final since 2009.
Mitchel’s defeated London’s Thomas McCurtains in the final in Watford by 2-20 to 1-7, with Scally chipping in with a point from wing back.
The Birmingham club subsequently lost their All-Ireland JHC quarter-final to Monaghan’s Castleblayney by 2-11 to Mitchels 1-10. Mitchel’s, though, had led by five points at the break having had first use of a strong wind.
Castleblayney went on to reach last Sunday’s All-Ireland final, and for Scally that should have been John Mitchel’s.
“You look back at the team we had and think what could have been,” he said.
“It was a great year for Mitchel’s; we played well in all our games, up until that final one. They had their homework done and they just wanted it a bit more than us on the day.”
Down on Sunday in Birmingham is it then, with Down arriving at Pairc na hEirenan after losing to Derry in Round 1 (1-16 to 0-15), but having bounced back to beat Wicklow by 1-23 to 0-15.
In 2018, Down only missed out on reaching the Christy Ring Cup semi-finals on points difference from Wicklow and London.
“We definitely won’t be taking anyone for granted this year, but it’s a home game for us and they have to travel over. We’ll try and use that to our advantage,” said Scally.
“We’ve gone up a level so it’s expected that games are going to be tougher – we knew what we were getting into. But if we’d known we’d be missing so many lads this year, we’d still go out and try.
“We’re not going to back away going up a level. We’ve just got to try and learn as much as we can in the league, and then come championship…..hopefully playing at that higher level will work to our advantage.”