By Larry Cooney
After being in the doldrums for 40 years without any All-Ireland success whatsoever, Warwickshire hurling has enjoyed some remarkable success since their historic and memorable Lory Meagher Cup final breakthrough in 2013.
Last June, the Exiles narrowly failed to make it Lory Meagher-Nicky Rackard Cup back-to-back titles.
But now, Warwickshire hurling is reeling from the body-blow of Tony Joyce’s surprise resignation as the team’s manager.
The affable Antrim native spoke exclusively to the Irish World about his big decision, which he made before Christmas due to work and domestic commitments , and where hurling in the Midlands might go from here as the Exiles prepare for a very tough Division 2B campaign.
Joyce says that he does not have the sufficient time required to devote to the job while rearing a young family as well as running CMS – his own successful business which he set up in 2011.
“Family commitments are the main stumbling block for managing and inter-county,” Joyce told the Irish World.
“Since 2015 we’ve been settled in Stratford-on-Avon, where my wife has a successful dance business, and she took my three daughters with her after school and weekends. This gave me plenty of time to plan the team’s training schedule.”
Joyce’s inspirational story has also proved that success takes much patience and should not be presumed, or even assumed, that it will happen automatically.
However, he is still satisfied and convinced that he leaves hurling in the Midlands in a much healthier state that when he found it, since his first involvement almost 15 years ago as a player based in Coventry.
“I was 12 years playing and one year as a coach under manager Paddy Hoey and finally my last years (two) as manager,” said Joyce, who first moved to Coventry in 1993.
Belfast born from the Turf Lodge area, Joyce’s boyhood hurling activity was with Gortnamona at club level while at colleges level he hurled for the local CBS school under the tutelage of Cork native Bro. Keane who was ruthlessly competitive.
“I enjoyed playing wing back winning my first-ever trophy on a colleges’ team draw from players from all the well-known Belfast clubs O’Donovan Rossa, St John’s, Lamh Dearg and of course my own club Gortnamona,” he said.
Joyce joined the John Mitchels club from Roger Casements in 2005 after he had his knee reconstructed after a long spell of inactivity.
“Mitchels were also undergoing a revival at the time but the club enjoyed the success of winning a three-in-a-row of Provincial (All-Britain) JHC titles.
“I was involved in two of those as a player before injury finally forced my retirement and that’s when I first got a taste of management while being a selector,”
However, Joyce felt it was time to take a break from the game in order build his business. He also had the responsibility and domestic commitment that goes with starting a family.
After no less than eight knee operations and because he missed playing so much he decided to get involved in the All-Britain Shield competition with Roger Casements.
Warwickshire have been involved in lower tier hurling competition since 2005 when they joined London in the first Nicky Rackard Cup competition which London won.
But it was not until the later emergence of the Lory Meagher Cup that the Exiles in the Midlands had a realistic chance of contesting a Croke Park final.
When he succeeded Paddy Hoey as county manager he also accepted the John Mitchel’s job in 2017.
With Warwickshire having won the Lory Meagher Cup in 2013 there was a genuine opportunity of the Midlands Exiles being back in Croke Park in the not too distant future.
“I think every manager that takes over most of the lower-tiered counties can expect to get to Croke Park and that proved to be the case with me. What a reward for 20 years hard work,” he said.
“It was a fantastic occasion that day against Leitrim in 2017, especially after the disappointment of the extra-time league defeat to Longford.
“I’m lucky to have a good workforce at CMS. I would have lads in the office sorting the flights and hotels for the team off the field and I suppose I just managed it all really on the coalface of the playing field,” said Joyce, whose motto is: ‘If you look after the small stuff, the big stuff will look after itself’.
Joyce’s two-year stint in the Warwickshire hurling hot-seat also included a 15-match unbeaten run following the 2017 league final loss to Longford after extra time in Carrickmore.
“To win three trophies in 2018 (the league at county level) followed by John Mitchel’s provincial success, and to contest the Nicky Rackard Cup final was really a great year for such a small panel the players. I am immensely proud of them,” concluded Joyce.
“I don’t think you have seen the last of them because Warwickshire still have some very good players and hopefully they can prove that later this month hopefully with a home victory over Wicklow.”
Tony Joyce’s Managerial Record with Warwickshire
2017 – League Final Division 3B Final – Lost to Longford by 2 points in Carrickmore (AET)
2017 – Lory Meagher Cup Final – Beat Leitrim by 6 points at Croke Park
2018 – League Final Division 3A Final – Beat Louth by three points in Trim
2018 – Nicky Rackard Cup Final – Lost to Donegal 2-19 to 0-18 at Croke Park