Allianz NHL Div 3A Final Preview
By Larry Cooney
A year after narrowly missing out to Longford in a thrilling Division 3B final, Warwickshire are now back in another league decider.
They completed their five games in Division 3A unbeaten following their seven-point victory in Roscommon last Sunday week, and are now poised for promotion to Division 2B.
It is a great achievement for Tony Joyce’s charges who like so many managers of Exiles’ teams usually has to deal with a large turnover of players each year.
But since Longford have also been relegated it is even more remarkable how Warwickshire have also dealt with their transition since the loss of last year’s marquee player – Liam Watson.
But in Niall McKenna (2-33), Warwickshire has unearthed an impressive forward of top quality and along with Galway trio Paul Hoban, Shane Caulfield and Paul Uniacke, and Cork men John Collins and Michael O’Regan, the Exiles look set to be a formidable force in this year’s Nicky Rackard Cup.
But after their toughest test of the campaign in their third round clash in Darver on 18 February, Warwickshire know that Louth will be another serious test in Saturday’s final in Trim (1pm).
Powered by Clare native Niall Arthur (7-41) the Wee County could pose real problems for them.
However, if Warwickshire play to their full potential then they should prove that they are the best team in Division 3A in 2018.
That was also the view of Roscommon manager Ciaran Comerford who admitted that Warwickshire were the best team they had faced in this year’s campaign.
“We’re disappointed after the good start we made that we didn’t make the final, but the reason for that was out there today because Warwickshire are a quality team and should now get promoted and also do well in the Nicky Rackard Cup,” said the Portumna-based Laois native.
Warwickshire manager Joyce was understandably in a much more upbeat mood after watching his side beat Roscommon to clinch a place in the final, as he congratulated his players and fellow mentors on the Exiles’ latest achievement.
“It was an entertaining game and I was impressed with the general overall performance,” said Joyce. And he added that the team had steadily improved over the five games.
“It was important that we got off to a good start at the beginning of the campaign and winning in Tyrone was massive.”
However, since the opening day the team has continued to gel, especially after some of its more difficult games, against Louth in Darver and at home to Monaghan in the penultimate round.
“This is a talented team but it also has tremendous battling qualities as it proved against Louth when the team was down to 13 players,” said Joyce, who knows Warwickshire face another stern challenge when they face the Wee County.
“Any team with the scoring potential of Niall Arthur has to be considered dangerous opposition and we realise that fact, but Louth will also be saying the same things about our Niall McKenna.”
The form of Warwickshire’s top scorer, McKenna, will once again be key to the Exiles’ success.
The Antrim man has given a number of man-of-the-match performances since he joined the Exiles this year, and Louth will be aware of the danger he is likely to present to a rearguard which conceded five goals against Longford.
Burly full forward Domhnall Nugent will also be a handful for the Louth defence and his physical presence, as well as his ability to win primary possession, will be crucial to the Warwickshire cause.
“Niall and club-mate Garry Lennon along with Domhnall Nugent have fitted in well to the Warwickshire attack and I expect them to be equally effective in the final,” concluded the Warwickshire manager.
Louth have really impressed since their disastrous start against Roscommon, but unlike Warwickshire they are not quite as well balanced as a team unit.
However, Warwickshire will need to be at their very best if they are to gain consecutive promotions and secure Division 2B hurling next year.
The Exiles though, have the momentum and swagger of a successful side and above all a genuine team spirit that exudes all over the park and in charismatic team manager, Joyce, a true leader of men.
Warwickshire will have looked at the defensive lapses that led to the concession of three first half goals last Sunday week in Dr Hyde Park against the Rossies, but there is still plenty of ability and experience in the Warwickshire line-up to grasp the moment and put them in pole position for the Nicky Rackard Cup by first gaining league promotion.