Gregory O'Kane: 'It'll be physical in Scotland'
By John Harrington
Ireland joint-manager, Gregory O’Kane, is expecting a fierce battle from Scotland in the 2016 Hurling/Shinty international series this weekend.
The two countries do battle in Bught Park in Inverness on Saturday at 2.00pm, and past experience has taught O’Kane that Ireland had better bring their ‘A’ game.
Last year they didn’t and suffered a heavy 3-15 to 2-8 defeat away to the Scots.
“They were very clinical,” says O’Kane. “Sidelines, frees, anything, any mistake at all is punished, so they are very good.
“It is so physical especially over in Scotland, you see the Shinty sticks, it’s a big, physical game. It’s quite a fast game and hard hitting.
“Definitely there is no hanging about, especially in Inverness.”
Last year’s international was a two-legged affair and Ireland avenged the defeat in Inverness by beating Scotland 2-10 to 2-8 in Croke Park. That impressive response from the Irish players underlined to O’Kane again just how much it means for them to represent their country.
“We’ve done two years now with the U-21s and this is our second with the seniors,” says O’Kane. “We’ve gotten a great response from players, and it’s still the only sort of Irish identity the hurling game has.
“When people like John McGrath (Tipperary), who plays alongside people like Danny Cullen from Donegal, and people like that there, and the Meath boys who won the Christy Ring Cup this year, James Toher, in that sense it gives players a great opportunity to play together.
“We can only judge by the players we get in and how keen to play they are, and keend to be involved. Sometimes there are players who want to play who are caught with their clubs. There’s probably another argument whereby should our club championships be earlier in the year.
“There is all sorts of arguments, but I have to say from a player's perspective the response we get is very good and they are very keen to play.”
It’s a testament to the rising hurling fortunes of Kerry and Meath that they’re both so well represented on the U-21 and Senior panels that travel to Scotland this weekend.
Seven Kerry and five Meath players will be involved over the course of both matches, and O’Kane has been impressed by what he’s seen from them in the two trials that were held before the panels were named.
“You see the Kerry lads, they had a brilliant year last year in Division 1B,” he says. “They were absolutely flying. They got promoted up there and held their own greatly.
“You look at the Kerry lads, and we have a few of them in with us, and at the trials their conditioning, physicality, and ability to hurl, that's the reason they're there because they're good enough and they're committing to it.
“Like, James Toher (Meath) and Brian Murphy is there from Kerry corner-back, and he could play for any county. You just see the quality of them.
“They're good players, brilliant players, but with geography they were probably born in the wrong county. That's the sad reality. It's like any sport. If you're a good hurler you're a good hurler in any county.”
Antrim’s own decline as a hurling force is also reflected in the make-up of the Ireland panels with just one player from the county on the U-21 team and none on the senior team.
Former Saffrons star O’Kane admits a lot of work needs to be done to make Antrim a force in inter-county hurling again.
“Like, you know, we have to take stock,” he says. “We have to look where we are at, where we are going. We just need to revamp everything.
“We need people to get a reason to play for Antrim against. If you look at our club structure it’s as good as any county. We compete in All-Irelands, we win All-Irelands at every level, junior, intermediate and seniors since 2012, so in that regard I just feel these last few years the pride has maybe gone out of the Antrim jersey and players are maybe more committing to the club scene.
“We need to get going on that aspect and we need to find a reason for people to play for Antrim again.”