Tuesday 22 January 2019

Reds' revenge mission against league champions

GAA: Nicky Rackard Cup

Marcus Cavaroli

Louth manager Philip O'Brien is hoping it's a case of 'third time lucky' when his team host Warwickshire in round one of hurling's 2018 Nicky Rackard Cup in Darver on Saturday (1pm).

In the first of three group games the Reds will be seeking revenge for their three-point defeat to the Exiles in the NHL Division 3A Final six weeks ago, while the counties' first meeting in the league ended all square - 1-16 apiece.

Defeat wouldn't spell the end of Louth's qualification hopes - they next face Longford away on the 19th and then Monaghan on June 2nd in Darver, with the top two in each of the two groups progressing to the semi-finals.

However, Meath native O'Brien is keen to make a positive start and feels the Wee County are better placed to compete at this level than 12 months ago when they were stepping up from the Lory Meagher competition and duly went out in the early stages.

'I think we're in a better position this year to make a challenge,' O'Brien agreed, following a regular league campaign that featured two wins, two draws and one heavy defeat to Roscommon on the opening day back in January.

'By getting to the league final we've let the cat out of the bag and everyone knows what we're about, but there's no one out there that we fear.

'It's down to who wants it the most and if we can get that attitude from the lads we can come through.

'We will give it our all and whatever pans out we're not in this competition just to make up the numbers.'

That said, O'Brien is wary of a Warwickshire team whose team selection can be unpredictable, while he is sweating on a number of injuries in his own camp.

'We're well capable of beating them, but they are tough opponents and we'll need to be at our peak and have everyone on board and need a bit of luck as well.

'We don't know what team they will come with - we played them in the league and then in the final their panel was totally different, and because of that we're at a little bit of a disadvantage.

'It's easy being manager of Tipperary or Kilkenny because they have the numbers to pick three teams, and even in Meath they have more players to pick from.

'We don't have the numbers in Louth hurling and it's tough. We need everyone there and to have everyone right, but a couple of students pulled out of the panel because of exams and that's understandable because their career is important to them.

'We have a few injuries here and there as well and we won't know until later in the week who we have, but it's not looking great for some of them.'

O'Brien wouldn't be drawn on the identities of his chief concerns, but he'll be especially keen to have Clare brothers Niall and Gerry Arthur available, with the former finishing as the NFL Division 3A's top scorer by a proverbial mile with a remarkable 7-50 to his name despite missing the first game.

A little bit of rustiness can be expected in the opening minutes on Saturday, with Louth not having played a competitive match since that final back in March, but they'll take confidence from that draw earlier in the campaign which denied Warwickshire a 100% record in the league.

'It's been mainly in-house games for the last two weeks,' revealed O'Brien, who struggled to find teams available for friendlies at this time of year.

'But we did have a challenge against a strong club from Meath and beat them well.

'Now it comes thick and fast and it could be all over in three weeks, but I think it's a good format to have at least three games guaranteed.'

The Argus