Warks hurlers have Croker in their sights again

Warwickshire hurlers have Croker in their sights again
The Warwickshire hurling team. Photo: Fintan McTiernan

By Larry Cooney

Warwickshire’s hurlers are just 70 minutes away from a return to Croke Park for a third consecutive year, and what would be a fourth final appearance at HQ since 2013.

Chris Brough’s Exiles face Sligo on Sunday at Celtic Park, Derry, at 1:30pm for a place in the Nicky Rackard Cup final on 22 June.

In their path stands a Sligo team which has emerged not only as the form team of the competition, but is one of the most improved teams in lower tier hurling.

But Warwickshire, Rackard runners up in 2018, go into the game unbeaten in their last four matches, and with some serious momentum building of their own.

Since retaining their Division 2B status with an impressive relegation play-off victory over Donegal, the Exiles have pulled off a notable victory over Longford and played out two hard-fought draws with Armagh and Monaghan. Both secured by last-gasp equalising goals.

Warwickshire hurlers have Croker in their sights again
Nicky Rackard Cup 2019 Group1, Round 3 – Monaghan 2-15 Warwickshire 3-12 on Saturday 1st. June 2019 at Páirc Grattan, Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan.

“The team has shown a lot of character at times since Donegal – in the Armagh game especially. The boys are supporting each other well,” said Warwickshire manager Chris Brough.

“There’s also some great camaraderie in the group, so we’ll look to carry this on for the semi-final. Sligo are always tough, but we’ll take being unbeaten so far.”

Kelvin’s Magee’s injury-time goal saw Warwickshire grab a draw in Monaghan, but it mattered not with table-toppers Armagh beating Longford.

“There is a massive improvement needed going forward if we are to secure a place for ourselves in Croke Park,” said Brough.

“We were wasteful and some of our wides were criminal with no pressure on the ball, and at times we picked the wrong option. That’s something we have to work on.

Warwickshire hurlers have Croker in their sights again
Robert Curley of Warwickshire and Gary Cadden of Sligo who will compete in the Nicky Rackard Cup in attendance at the official launch of Joe McDonagh, Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Competitions at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

“We also have to work a little bit on discipline. Coming to the end especially we were giving away frees too easily.”

He added: “Coming to Inniskeen is never easy and Monaghan, despite losing their two earlier games, really put it up to us.

“To get a draw means we are going through to the semi-final undefeated. Coming over to Ireland and getting any result is great for us, so we’ll take it and look forward to Sligo.”

The men from the Yeats County have already eliminated a fancied Mayo team, which saw off London in a winner-takes-all Div 2A relegation play-off in Ruislip in March.

Winning last year’s Lory Meagher Cup was undoubtedly the first tangible evidence of a real change in fortunes for Sligo hurling.

That 2018 success was masterminded by Monaghan native, Daithí Hand, and former Sligo players Darragh Cox, Mark Burke and Morgan Fitzsimons.

Warwickshire hurlers have Croker in their sights again
Chris Brough (right) celebrating Warwickshire’s relegation play-off win over Donegal. Photo: Larry Cooney

This year, former London Nicky Rackard Cup winner and trainer (in 2005) Colum O’Meara is beginning to leave his stamp on the team.

Sligo have won six of their eight games this year, with one draw. Their only loss came against Longford in the NHL Div 3B final, when they were edged out by 2-15 to 3-10 after two periods of extra-time.

Dual-star Gerard O’Kelly Lynch is one to watch while full-forward Kevin Gilmartin scored two goals in that defeat to Longford. He also scored a hat-trick in last year’s Lory Meagher Cup final with Lancashire, including the dramatic late winner.

Warwickshire’s recent record against Sligo

2017 – Warks 2-20 v 2-9 Sligo
Lory Meagher Cup Rnd 2 at Birmingham

2017 – Warwickshire 3-9 v 3-8 Sligo
NHL Div 3B Rnd 1
Birmingham

2016 – Sligo 3-18 v 3-11 Warwickshire
Lory Meagher Cup Rnd 3
Sligo Centre of Excellence

2015 – Warwickshire 3-12 v 1-15 Sligo
Lory Meagher Cup Rnd 3
Markievicz Park

2015 – Warwickshire 5-14 v 0-14 Sligo
NHL Div 3B Rnd 1
Birmingham


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