Winning habit taking Warks closer to Croker return
By Larry Cooney
Warwickshire’s high-flying hurlers will be defending their 14-match unbeaten record in Glennon Bros, Pearse Park, Longford this Saturday as they look to secure a home Nicky Rackard Cup semi-final, but according to star centre-back Paul Hoban it’s just another game to be won on what he and his team mates hope will be an immediate return to Croke Park on June 23.
The Exiles have to go back to last year’s thrilling Division 3B final in Carrickmore for the last time they tasted defeat and by a strange coincidence the opposition was the same as this weekend – Longford.
Much has changed for both sides since that sunny April Sunday in Co. Tyrone, but it would appear that it is the (Irish) Midlanders who have regressed since then.
Longford only lasted one season in Division 3A while Tony Joyce’s men have grown in stature and proved their worth with their recent promotion to Division 2B after a thrilling victory over Louth in the Division 3A league decider in Trim.
According to Warwickshire centre back Paul Hoban a trip to Longford can never be taken for granted.
But since the departure of last year’s free-scoring talisman Liam Watson, Warwickshire have coped admirably in filling what looked like a huge void in their attack.
In their recent league campaign and the first two rounds of the Nicky Rackard Cup, Warwickshire victories have been achieved with a much greater spread of scorers with Loughrea man Hoban also contributing some invaluable scores from long range frees, and the odd spectacular score from play.
“Liam Watson was a huge loss to the team but the main strength of the team is their commitment to the Warwickshire cause,” said Hoban.
“Our hard work in training is paying off and when you get that winning habit it’s always that bit easier to motivate yourself and get down to training.
“Since I came to live in Birmingham and work in Coventry two years ago I don’t know what I would have done without hurling in my spare time, and it’s the same for many other members of the team because we are all enjoying our hurling. Long may it continue.”
After a disastrous league campaign Longford were hoping for a much better start to the Nicky Rackard than the heavy defeat they suffered at Monaghan’s hands in Inniskeen.
However, a seven-point victory over Louth in the last round has brought the Midlanders right back into contention and although the Exiles recorded a league victory over them in Pairc na hEireann last February, this Saturday’s encounter looks certain to be extremely competitive.
Longford also reversed their earlier league result with the Wee County, but that previous encounter also included the Niall Arthur contribution of 4-12 which helped propel Louth to their place in the league decider.
“A trip to Longford is never easy and we do not have a good record there so they will be well up for it,” said Hoban, who will also be facing Longford for the fourth time in two years.
“My first game in Longford was not really relevant but the final match in Carrickmore could have gone either way and there was just two points in it in the end after extra-time.”
Hoban is also aware that there will be a number of changes in the Longford team this time.
“Warwickshire have been fortunate enough to have a settled team at the moment and the return of corner back Dean Bruen and Paul Uniacke in attack will be a major boost, but the team will also have to be at its best if we are secure that home semi-final on June 9,” said Hoban.
Warwickshire can expect to encounter a Longford side much stronger than in their league meeting earlier this year.
They have a good spread of scorers including Joe O’Brien, Limerickman Cathal Mullane and Waterford native Padraig Walsh, who plays his club hurling with Clonkill.
Recent Warwickshire recruit and wing back Peadar Scally might even find himself pitted against his fellow Westmeath clubman, Walsh.
But if last year’s experience against Longford taught the Exiles anything it was that Walsh is one of Longford’s most influential players. Last year’s captain Seamus Hannon, who skippered London’s footballers to a Connacht final in 2013, now lines out in the Longford half-back where Warwickshire will have to dominate if they are to come out on top.
Big games will therefore be expected from Shane Caulfied, Uniacke and Niall McKenna if they are to curb the effectiveness of this crucial line for the hosts.
The concession of three goals to Monaghan might be a concern for the Warwickshire management, but the Exiles should have sufficient guile and experience to keep the Longford attack in check.
Although Longford hit 0-19 against Louth they still failed to raise a green flag.
While Warwickshire’s recent record in Longford may not be that encouraging the circumstances will be different this Saturday mainly due to the fact that the Exiles have improved considerably under Tony Joyce’s management.
They are now capable of producing some impressive performances in Ireland as they did against Tyrone, Louth and Roscommon earlier this year.
Back in 2015, Warwickshire also recorded a famous 1-15 to 2-10 victory over Longford in the Division 3B final in Ratoath.
But Hoban will also have an even bigger incentive to inspire his team mates to victory this Saturday. Although he played a huge part in helping the Exiles reach last year’s Lory Meagher Cup final, an unfortunate arm injury in the week before the final denied him his big moment in Croke Park.
“I was delighted for the lads last year but I was also extremely frustrated not being able to be a part of that great victory over Leitrim,” he said.
“In training I am constantly reminding the lads of the need to keep it going and put in the work, and I’m sure we will be rewarded with another appearance in Croke Park.
“But we need to take care of Longford first.”