By Damian Dolan
Warwickshire selector John O’Shea is adamant the Midlanders can bounce back from league relegation to have a major say in this year’s Nicky Rackard Cup.
Defeat to London, 1-20 to 0-5, at Ruislip ended Warwickshire’s two years in Division 2B, but a “tough year” could give them with the perfect springboard for the championship.
The Midlanders reached the Rackard final in 2018 and were knocked out at the semi-final stage last year.
They open this year’s campaign with a difficult trip to Mayo on 9/10 May before welcoming Tyrone to Pairc na hEireann. Their final group game is away to Monaghan.
“I’ve no doubts we’ll be there or thereabouts for a semi-final,” O’Shea told the Irish World.
“Our aim all season has been the Rackard – we’ll draw a line under the league and crack on again.
“We’ve 22 or 23 sessions between now and Mayo and we’ll be knuckling down and working on what we need to.”
While Monaghan and Tyrone are both in Div 3A, Mayo spent this year in Div 2A – albeit a campaign that ended in relegation.
“It’s a tough group; Mayo is a difficult first opponent. We haven’t played Tyrone for a few years, but those games have traditionally always been tight, and we drew with Monaghan last year,” said O’Shea.
Punching above their weight against Kildare, Down, Derry, Roscommon and London – all of whom ply their trade in the Christy Ring – should be “massive” preparation for the Rackard.
“The hurling is that bit sharper and quicker, and teams are better organised. We can learn from all of that,” said O’Shea.
Warwickshire went out to eventual Rackard champions Sligo in last year’s semi-finals, by just four points, on the back of a similarly tough Div 2B campaign.
“It stood to us last year and we were only a couple of pucks of a ball away from a Rackard final, so I’ve no doubt it will stand to us again this year,” he added.
“We’ve a very small panel, but everyone puts their shoulder to the wheel and drives on.
“We get the very best out of lads and it’s shown the last couple of years. We’ve got the belief within the panel to drive on in the Rackard.”
Div 3A winners in 2018, it’s been a tough two years for Warwickshire in the league. Last year, they stunned Donegal in the relegation play-off – but they couldn’t repeat that escape act last Sunday against London.
“We pulled it off last year, but unfortunately we couldn’t do it this year. We’ll just have to regroup,” said O’Shea.