By Michael McMullan
AFTER 11 weeks of kicking up their heels, Carrickmacross hurlers are back in championship action and manager Brian Whelan is hoping the wide-open spaces of Clones will suit his young side.
Their Monaghan final was one to forget as they went down 2-23 to 1-10 to kingpins Castleblayney – champions in 19 of the last 23 seasons – who play in the Ulster intermediate championship this weekend.
Carrickmacross pushed ‘Blayney to five points in the first group game, which was followed by wins over Truagh and Clontibret to set them up for the final.
“We have a very young team, we have an average age of just over 22,” points out Whelan, a native of Waterford.
“We look at the fact that we are very young team and there is a good few years left in these lads.
We have always said this was a building project that in two or three years’ time.”
Whelan, who played in their 2005 final defeat – also at the hands of ‘Blayney – insists they are the standard everyone has to get to.
“They are a team to be admired,” he said. “They don’t drop their guard or their standard or their intensity.
“ If you are going to win a Monaghan senior championship, you are going to have to earn it because you are going to have to beat ‘Blayney somewhere along the way.”
With that mindset a long-term plan, this weekend’s clash with Down champions Ballela is the here and now.
Many of the Whelan’s squad were in football action for Carrickmacross Emmet’s, Latton, Donaghmoyne and Killanny.
They made a decision to step back from hurling preparations before ramping up their efforts in the last four weeks.
“We knew in September that November 28 was our date, so we planned to get everyone back together,” he said.
“We were fairly busy. We have guys who play football and both the hurling and football championships were going on side by side.”
Their preparations have been based around in-house games, but they have not been without their injury.
Their captain Patrick Bermingham, the Monaghan senior goalkeeper, put off an operation on an ankle injury until after the county final and he won’t be available.
Monaghan hurler Shane Slevin, who also plays with the county’s U20 footballers, has a quad injury and missed training earlier in the week.
“It doesn’t look like he will be playing either, so that’s a bit of a loss,” added Whelan, who admitted he wasn’t at Ballela’s 4-9 to 0-13 win over Kilclief in the Down decider.
“We are concentrating on getting out own game plan going,” he said. “Clones is a great pitch to be playing hurling on at this time of the year.
“If we can get our game going and bring our fitness from the young lads, then we are hoping the big, wide pitch will suit us.”