By Damian Dolan
Luke Hands is cutting it fine and any jetlag is just going to have to wait – there’s a relegation play-off to be won.
The Warwickshire forward, along with his brother Anthony, flies into Heathrow on Saturday evening – just hours before the team’s do-or-die Div 2B clash with his former county, London, at McGovern Park (1pm).
The pair were in Thailand to attend the wedding of their brother, Colman.
“We’ll see how we are on Sunday morning,” Hands told the Irish World.
Hands, who won a Christy Ring with London in 2012, qualifies for Warwickshire having been born in Coventry.
For him, it’s a second chance to face his former county – he would have missed last weekend’s dead-rubber Round 5 Div 2B fixture at Ruislip.
Warwickshire subsequently gave a walkover anyway.
“I was waiting for the fixtures to come out and once I saw the date of the London fixture I was a bit disappointed,” he said.
With St Gabriel’s, Hands won senior London titles in 2018 and 2012, and played in an intermediate club final at Croke Park in 2013.
For London, his two goals helped Eamonn Phelan’s side overcome Derry in the quarter-finals, on their way to Ring success in 2012.
He won a Div 2B NHL title the following year, and found the net as London returned to the Liam MacCarthy Cup against Carlow at Dr Cullen Park in 2013.
“It was a great bunch of guys and we worked hard for each other,” he recalled.
In 2014, he was in Mullingar when London lost to Westmeath by a goal to drop back down to the Christy Ring. A draw would have relegated Westmeath instead.
The team’s cause, Hands remembers, wasn’t helped by flying into the Belfast the evening before the game, only for their flight to be delayed by a couple of hours.
It wasn’t until 3am that the players got to their hotel beds in Dublin. Throw in was at 12pm.
“Afterwards, with hindsight, we would have paid any money to make sure we stayed in the Liam McCarthy,” said Hands.
Strong ties to London, but when the ball’s thrown in on Sunday the competitive juices will come out.
Hands initially received a phone call from Warwickshire enquiring whether he’d be interested playing for them as a ‘special’ player this year.
“I laughed because they weren’t aware that I was actually born in Coventry,” he said.
— Official London GAA (@LondainGAA) March 1, 2020
“I said ‘I don’t need to – I can declare myself as a home-based player’. I think the Warwickshire secretary was jumping over small houses.”
Coventry was where his parents met before later moving back to Galway. His brothers, Colman and Anthony, were also born there.
He marked his Warwickshire debut with 1-5 (0-5f) in a losing cause against Roscommon at Dr Hyde Park.
The fact London and Warwickshire’s hurlers find themselves in a relegation play-off “highlights an awful lot” for Hands – but mainly how a lack of pre-season games is leaving sides over here ill-equipped for the National League.
It’s an issue he feels strongly about.
“The first time a manager sees new guys is in the National League. Teams at home have the opportunity to test players in challenge games – we don’t have that option,” he said.
Hands would like to see the introduction of a more structured pre-season league involving London, Warwickshire and Lancashire, and possibly even a university team.
#AllianzLeagues Division 2 Hurling Tables after Round 5#gaa #hurling #Kerry #Antrim #Offaly #Meath #Wicklow #Mayo #Kildare #Roscommon #Derry #Down #London #Warwickshire #gaaleaguetables pic.twitter.com/xwm69Neq9y
— GAA League Tables (@GAALeagueTables) March 1, 2020
“Just three games would really stand to these teams going into the National League,” he added.
Kildare was a case in point. While the Lilywhite’s “professionalism” shone through, Warwickshire’s players were busy “trying to get to know the name of the guy beside them”.
“This needs changing and the only way to change it is more games,” said Hands.
It’s been a tough league campaign for Warwickshire, but Hands has been urging his teammates not to be “disheartened”.
These games will stand to them, and they certainly won’t be found wanting for effort on Sunday.
“We’d have a panel of 24 or 25 – we’re not blessed with masses of numbers – but the lads are committed to one another, and in that sort of game work-rate should win out,” he said.