By Damian Dolan
The days of “glorious defeats” are well and truly over says Lancashire manager Stan Murray-Hession, as the Exiles prepare to face Louth in a game which could go a long way to deciding their future in the division.
Both sides head to Abbotstown on Saturday in Dublin (1:30pm) – Lancashire’s adopted ‘home’ ground for the national league – having lost their opening two matches.
Second-best against Tyrone in Round 1, Lancashire slipped to a second defeat at the hands of Armagh in Crossmaglen, although they were well in the game until captain Greg Jacobs picked up a second yellow card.
That came 15 minutes into the second half with Lancashire trailing by just three points. Armagh took full advantage to win by eight.
Plenty of positives, but for Murray-Hession this is a results business.
“We’re zero points from two games – that’s the stark reality,” Murray-Hession told the Irish World.
For Murray-Hession, the dismissal of Jacobs was a “double whammy”, as it wasn’t just the impact of going down to 14-men which hurt the Exiles, but that they’d had lost their captain.
It was a “huge changing factor” in the game says the Lancashire manager.
“He’s a huge part of what we do, every game he plays,” said Murray-Hession, who is in his second spell in charge.
“Armagh are laced with talent; they had a few injuries and they put three subs on and they all had a huge impact on the game. They were better than the lads who started.
“I’m pleased that we competed for longer and we were at it from the word go, but we’ve got to start taking some of the goal chances we’re creating. We’ve got to stop conceding silly goals and our discipline has to improve.”
Defeat to Armagh came after a rude awakening to life in Division 3A served up by Tyrone – the Exiles on the wrong end of a 2-17 to 0-10 scoreline. Murray-Hession concedes that the step up from Div 3B is “absolutely huge”.
“I’m not saying we underestimated it, but I probably didn’t realise how big a gulf it is,” he said.
“The speed of the game is so much quicker, and the play is so much better and of a higher standard.
“When you’ve got players who are playing at a very high level, like Armagh and Tyrone, it’s going to take a while to get to the speed of the game.”
That high tempo is one aspect Murray-Hession admits they struggled with against Tyrone, with Lancashire left “chasing shadows” in the opening 20 minutes.
“They were really impressive; they were the fastest team we’ve ever played against,” he said.
“They were way more advanced in terms of their physical fitness and their speed than anything I’ve experienced before, be it club or county level.”
Already behind their rivals in their preparations for the league, Lancashire’s cause against Tyrone wasn’t helped by the throw in having to be delayed by 45 minutes with seven members of their starting team running late due to their flight from Newcastle being delayed.
“It’s not ideal when you’ve got players running into a changing room, to get changed to run straight out on to a field,” said Murray-Hession.
“But what can you do? At one point it was looking like myself and Paddy Hoey might be togging out, so it could have been worse.”
Control the controllables is an oft trotted out line by managers and coaches, so while Lancashire have little influence over air traffic annoyances, they do over their own discipline.
For the second week in a row, Lancashire finished the game with 14-men. They can ill afford a repeat against Louth.
“If you give a numerical advantage to any of these teams, they’re going to punish you. We’re a little bit slow at working that one out, which is rather frustrating, because we’re not renowned for having a poor disciplinary record,” said Murray-Hession, who says last weekend’s break was a welcome one.
Not just to give the players a rest, but in providing an opportunity to take stock and “address” where and how over the next three weeks the team can pick “up a couple of points”.
“Our campaign to date has been a little bit disjointed, unlike the Tyrones and Armaghs who’ve all played a number of matches leading into the league. They’ve played six, seven or eight games – we’ve played two,” said Murray-Hession.
Lancashire return to Abbotstown on Saturday to face a Louth side for whom last year’s Division 3A final appearance must seem like a very long time ago now, following defeats to Roscommon (12 points) and Tyrone (15 points).
Murray-Hession’s charges then face a trip to Monaghan (24 February) and a meeting with Roscommon in Dublin on 3 March.
“Is Louth a big game? All of the next three games are big games for us, but we’re facing a [Louth] team that was in the National League (Div 3A) final last year and who are probably surprised to find themselves in the position they’re in at the moment,” he said.
“You very quickly realise the challenge that you’re facing. But we’ll give it another rattle and we’ll see how we go.”
Give it a rattle they no doubt will, but for Murray-Hession the result will be everything.
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