By Kieran Lynch
THIS Saturday will mark 76 days since Castleblayney defeated Carrickmacross to win the Monaghan Senior Hurling Championship Final on the 12th of September, and that game is the last time that ‘Blayney have played a competitive match this year.
It’s hardly ideal preparation for an Ulster Championship quarter-final, and manager Jimmy Lacey acknowledges that it has been a long wait to get to this point.
He said: “When you finished playing competitive hurling so long ago, it’s difficult to keep going with training and trying to keep the intensity up.”
“We’ve tried to organise a few challenge games, and that presented its own difficulties, because by the time we were finished up, a lot of other counties were only starting into their championships. But look, the lads have responded really well and we’re just looking forward to the game and can’t wait for Saturday to come around.”
The long break has allowed little chance for Castleblayney to build momentum, but Lacey understands the importance of ensuring his team are adequately prepared to perform against Middletown this weekend.
“We were fortunate enough to have been fairly successful in Monaghan in the last few years, and if there is anything we’ve learned from that, it’s that if you’re lucky enough to win your county final, it’s all about how you time the run into Ulster.”
“There is no point in us being really good six weeks ago, and then having it slide when it’s time. The approach has been to try and peak at the right time, and come in, in the best shape that we can on Saturday and see where it takes us.”
Ulster Champions at junior level in 2018, Castleblayney will be looking to build upon the lessons they learned in their last intermediate venture, and right the wrongs of their 2019 campaign.
“The year after we won the Ulster Junior, we got one crack at the intermediate that year – we played Bredagh and we lost by four points. We felt as though we left that one behind us a little bit, the better team won, but we felt as though we let ourselves down on the night.”
“We’ve been a long time waiting to get back to have another go at the intermediate, but it’s coming around on Saturday, and we know it’s a big task, but we have confidence in our own ability and it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.”
Opposing Castleblayney this Saturday will be Armagh Senior Champions Middletown, who won an Ulster Intermediate title as recently as 2017, and Lacey’s respect for the opposition is clear to see, as he believes Middletown are a team whose success can inspire his side.
“We’ve always looked at Middletown as being the benchmark for where we want to get to.
“They’ve really represented themselves and their county well at provincial level, winning the intermediate and going on to represent their county at senior level; so that’s something we aspire to do.”
Middletown may be the benchmark for Castleblayney, but Lacey has all the faith in the world, that his side can overcome them.
“It’s a big step-up, there’s no doubt about it. But we have huge confidence in ourselves too, that we’re able to make that step-up.”