By Michael McMullan
NEWRY Shamrocks host Ballycran on Sunday (Páirc Esler, 1pm) in their final group game of the Senior Hurling Championship.
It’s a second season of senior hurling but their defeat to Bredagh already sets them up an intermediate semi-final against Carryduff.
A mixture of players away seeing the world and injuries have left the Shamrocks’ squad decimated.
With a dozen duals players also focussing on football championship with the Shamrocks, Ballyholland and Longstone, hurling didn’t get the same full focus as their 2021 intermediate winning year.
Recently retired Armagh star Eoin McGuinness scored one of the goals in the intermediate win two seasons ago and along with brother Artie, he is one of the few not involved in football action.
“It’s a massive step up and we have a small panel,” Eoin said of the move to senior hurling.
“Last year we thought it was a learning curve but we have been badly hampered this year by injuries and boys away travelling.
“We have struggled getting men out on the field. With the football clubs that feed into our hurling club doing well in the championship, it is hard to balance the both especially if there are boys from different clubs.”
McGuinness has been struggling with injuries and is unlikely to play as the side target another intermediate championship.
“Last year it was a complete shellshock. We played well for 35 or 40 minutes and then we just died because we weren’t used to that level of hurling…and that pace,” he added.
“We don’t have the squad to rotate players or being boys off the bench. This year, we have played well in small periods of games but we haven’t pushed on enough.
“We were very disappointed last week to lose to Bredagh, a game we targeted that game from the start of the year.”
As well as the intermediate goal in the short-term, the bigger picture is taking a thriving underage production line all the up the ranks.
“If you go back 10 years, there was nothing coming through but now we have every age group up to u-13,” McGuinness said.
His father soldiered on to keep the senior team ticking over for young players like his sons. Now it’s turned full circle with the current experienced heads keeping their shoulder to the wheel.
The older underage players ply their trade with the Patrick Rankin’s underage teams.
“The six or seven hurlers we have there are outstanding,” McGuinness said.
“We have good numbers at underage. The work Ronan Sheehan, Paul Woods and Martin Lennon and Mark Cribbin have been putting into that youth structure is phenomenal.
“There is good interest there and we are planning to get into the schools. That’s where you get them and Shamrocks have a good link with a couple of the schools.”
Now it’s about keeping the momentum going, growing their underage and sowing the seeds for further forays into the Senior Championship.