By Damian Dolan
Warwickshire captain Dean Bruen says the Exiles won’t be relying on results elsewhere to ensure their place in the Nicky Rackard Cup semi-finals.
Chris Brough’s side head to Inniskeen on Saturday (1pm) knowing that while victory over Monaghan will guarantee they advance from Group 1, a draw, or even a defeat, might still see them progress, depending on the outcome of Armagh and Longford.
“We’re going over there to win; we don’t want to be relying on Armagh to beat Longford,” Bruen told the Irish World.
The Exiles face a Monaghan side already consigned to a relegation play-off. Defeats to Armagh and Longford mean that not even a win over the Exiles will improve their league placing.
That could make them something of an unknown quantity, but Bruen and Warwickshire will be taking “nothing for granted” regardless.
And nor should they. While Warwickshire came out on top in both of the sides’ meetings last year, neither victory was convincing on the scoreboard.
The Exiles won by a point in the league and then by four in the Nicky Rackard, but both games were played in Birmingham.
“They’ve got good quality hurlers and we have to respect them – we’re not going to get anything easy off them,” he added.
“Fergal Rafter is their main man and he’s one that we’re going to have to watch.
“They’re a big, fit, strong team and you’re always going to be in for a physical battle with Monaghan.”
Bruen’s healthy respect for Monaghan hurling also comes from being part of the John Mitchels side knocked out of last year’s All-Ireland Club Championship by Castleblayney.
The Monaghan junior champions overturned a five-point deficit with 12 minutes to go at Pairc na hEireann.
And he says they won’t be reading too much into Monaghan’s surprise three-point loss to Longford – a team the Exiles beat by three in Round 1.
“They’re not going to take too kindly to Warwickshire coming into their back garden hoping to top the group…..they’ll think they owe us a beating,” said Bruen, who is in his third year with Warwickshire.
“They’re not going to want to be the whipping boys of the group with no points – they’re going to come out fighting.
“But we’ve got the experience in the backs to keep them out, and if we’re able to keep our discipline they’ll find it hard to put up a big score.”
Discipline was a key factor in Warwickshire’s draw Armagh in Birmingham – a game Bruen says the Exiles “let slip”.
Twice the home side established a five-point lead, only to be reeled back in. The second time, with just 12 minutes to go.
They then needed a last-gasp goal from Jack Lynch to salvage a draw, after Danny Magee’s late goal for Armagh.
Thirteen of Armagh’s scores came from frees, and that’s one area the team has been focusing on in training ahead of Monaghan.
“On one hand we were disappointed coming off the pitch having not got the win, but at the same time we were happy we’d managed to get a point,” said Bruen, who joined Mitchel’s from Liam Mellows in Galway City.
“Our discipline let us down – he [Armagh’s freetaker] missed three frees as well and when you’re conceding that many frees you’re really shooting yourself in the foot. You’re putting yourself under a lot of pressure.”
Warwickshire, though, have the players to get a result says Bruen.
Lory Meagher champions in 2017 and Div 3B winners last year, the Exiles went 16 games unbeaten before that run was ended at Croke Park by Donegal.
Twelve months ago, they went to Longford in Round 3 and booked their place in the semi-finals by virtue of Kelvin Magee’s 55th minute goal.
After an eventful league campaign, they’re now unbeaten in their last three, and building up a bit of momentum once again.
“We’ve lads who know when to dig deep and when to stand up when the pressure’s on, and get the vital score at the right time. They know to keep a cool head when the game’s in the melting pot,” he said.
On the verge of a semi-final place, it’s been a sensational turnaround by Brough’s side, having been handed the “mother of all beatings” by Kildare in Div 2B in February.
Thirty-seven points was the final margin against the Lilywhites. Wicklow (15 points) and Donegal (16 points) also handed out heavy defeats.
But Bruen and Warwickshire were focusing on performance, and they could see something that others couldn’t, namely the “fight the lads were putting in”.
“Warwickshire’s more of a club team than a county team – we’re all willing to fight for each other. Everyone’s willing to put their body on the line for the man beside them,” he said.
Monaghan may have a point to prove on Saturday, but Warwickshire have got their mojo back and are sniffing a return to Croke Park, where they have some unfinished business.