By Damian Dolan
Warwickshire face the unenviable task of travelling to in-form Down on Saturday afternoon, for what could be another long afternoon for Chris Brough’s charges in their battle for league survival.
Awaiting them is a Down side which sent Roscommon packing from Ballycran two weeks ago, with little more than a 3-23 to 0-11 defeat to show for the trip.
Oisin McManus hit 1-12, with Down’s other goals coming from Eoghan Sands and Chris Egan.
For Down, it was a good response following their opening round three-point defeat to Derry at Celtic Park.
Warwickshire weren’t fairing too much better themselves – Kildare dishing out a 5-19 to 0-1 hammering at Pairc na hEireann.
Although it was an improvement on the 8-19 to 0-6 drubbing the Lilywhites inflicted upon a depleted Warwickshire last year, in some ways this was more of a shock to the system.
This was a Warwickshire side was far better prepared – although lacking in challenge matches – than the one ruthlessly put to the sword in Newbridge.
And with Roscommon having had 12 points to spare over the Exiles in Round 1, it’s hard to see anything other than a third loss of the campaign for Warwickshire.
The mental state of the two sides couldn’t be in greater contrast.
Brough and his management team will have spent the last two weeks trying to pick up their charges, but the midlanders seem to excel when the odds are stacked against them.
It would surprise no one if they were to produce a performance, if not a result, on Saturday in Ballycran which defied their last two outings.
They pulled a rabbit from the hat last year to survive and it would be a very foolish man who’d ever write off Warwickshire.
While rightly, and naturally, Brough spoke up the need for his team to keep its discipline – they were reduced to 14-men before half-time against Kildare – and the lack of challenge games available to county teams ‘over here’, most telling perhaps was his determination to keep the midlanders in Div 2B.
— Michael Anderson Jnr (@mickybwp) February 1, 2020
Twelve months ago they survived thanks to a thrilling relegation play-off win over Donegal – one week after being comprehensively beaten by the same opponents.
“We will do everything we can to stay in the division, as it is vital for a small county like Warwickshire to play at the highest level possible,” Brough told the Irish World after the defeat to the Lilywhites.
Brough will be forced into one change in his backline for Saturday’s trip to Ballycran with full back Anthony Hands unavailable following his red card. It will be interesting if he makes any other changes.
He also has problems at both ends of the pitch; 1-11 scored in two games, and 5-38 conceded. And your next game is against a side who’ve just filled their boots to rack up 3-23. How he tries to address both areas of concern will be intriguing.
After a weekend break, we go again playing away to down_gaa in Round 3 of the Allianz Hurling League
— Official Warwickshire GAA (@warwickshireclg) February 10, 2020
With an away fixture against Derry to follow, Warwickshire’s final match, at home to London, is taking on ever growing importance, if they are to avoid finding themselves in another relegation play-off on 7/8 March.
But if that’s where they find themselves, then their experience of 12 months ago will stand to them.
In a one-off game they will be a dangerous side for whoever their opponents might be – all of whom ply their trade a tier higher in the Christy Ring Cup. Warwickshire will once again have nothing lose.
But with their fitness improving with every game of hurling they get under their belt, Brough’s charges won’t be resigning themselves to that fate just yet. They have three games to avoid such a scenario.