By Kieran Lynch
MONAGHAN Senior Hurling champions Castleblayney are hoping that a long lay-off since their last competitive game won’t affect them this weekend when they take on Liatroim in the Ulster Intermediate Hurling quarter-final.
‘Blayney were crowned Monaghan champions on August 28, when they defeated Carrickmacross 2-15 to 1-8, and their manager Kevin Maloney conceded that it has been difficult to prepare for Saturday’s match-up after so many weeks without a competitive game.
“It has been difficult; it’s been 10 weeks since the Monaghan final,” he said.
“Trying to keep the fellas motivated for the entire time is an impossible task, but that’s the way that it is, that’s the lay of the land for us in Monaghan, and we just have to get on with it as best as we can.”
As for how he and the management team have tried to get the team at full tilt coming into the provincial championships, Maloney says that they have to hope that challenge matches are adequate enough preparation.
“We have tried to get challenge matches, but it’s an impossible task,” continued the Castleblayney manager.
“Most clubs are either involved in their own championships and they don’t want to play challenge matches, or else their season is finished.
“We did get a couple, against St Fechin’s in Louth, and Lisbellaw, but two challenge matches over the space of 10 weeks isn’t ideal.
“Lack of match practice could be a killer for us; fellas will turn up for a game much quicker than they’ll turn up for training night after night. But that’s the way it is, and it’s up to us as management to get on with it and try to keep the players motivated as best as we can.”
Of course, in the time frame between their last two games, there has been a shift in weather as we come into the winter months and Maloney feels that winter hurling is a different game from that played in the summer, and ‘Blayney will be looking to their stalwarts to get through it.
“If we get the type of rain that we have had recently it will be challenging. It seems like every night you go out for training it’s just getting heavier and heavier,” he said.
“This is where older players might find an advantage, because they have experience of playing in these conditions, but the pitch is going to be the same for both sides, so we can’t blame the conditions if it doesn’t go our way.”
As for their ambitions in Ulster, Maloney is realistic about the challenge that lies ahead, but whatever the result, he’s keen for his players to express themselves.
“This week is going to be a massive challenge for us,” said Maloney.
“We’re playing against a team with three or four players on the Down panel, and it’s two different levels between Down Intermediate and Monaghan Senior.
“But we’re hopeful that our fellas can perform to the best of their abilities on the day. They just have to express themselves and enjoy it; one thing you have for certain for that group is the bit of craic that you have, and they’re a tight-knit bunch.”