Liam Knocker still making an impact with Lancashire
By Cian O’Connell
Liam Knocker’s passion for hurling endures. Educated about the game and its possibilities in Belfast a couple of decades ago, Knocker is now very much part of the Lancashire GAA scene.
Saturday’s Lory Meagher Cup Final at Croke Park against Monaghan is Lancashire’s next assignment in a campaign that hasn’t been short on drama. The last group game was a goal laden win over Warwickshire and with Leitrim defeating Cavan, Lancashire advanced to the decider.
“It has been terrific, I think it has taken a while to set in because of how it happened with Leitrim helping us out, digging us out of a hole with the last puck of the game for them,” Knocker says. “We are delighted to be there.
“I enjoy it, we have a really good bunch of lads. We set out our stall early in the year, we had a great buy in. It is pretty much the same guys that were there last year, maybe one or two more joined in.
“They knew the process, they saw what happened last year when we didn't prepare properly. We were at the bad end of some heavy defeats.
“So we started earlier, we got a bit more training in, we met up more regularly. We have put our shoulder to the wheel because it is one of those competitions, if you give it everything you can end up getting to a final, and see what happens from there.
Undoubtedly it is a significant logistical challenge for Lancashire to train and play matches. “I'm based in Manchester, ourselves and the Liverpool lads train together in Manchester,” Knocker explains.
“Then you have Glasgow and Edinburgh based players in with us too. Logistically we get together in two separate pods during the week and at the weekends we try to train in Carlisle.
“It is about two hours 15 minutes from Manchester to Carlisle and Glasgow it is about two hours and 30 minutes. So we have to meet halfway every week. Then you're travelling for games so it really is a challenge trying to get everybody back to Dublin for the same time or Birmingham.
“It seems to be more challenging at the moment for some reason with train strikes and the price of flights and flights getting cancelled. So the logistics are fairly difficult, but George O'Rourke, who has been with the team this year, he has done a tremendous job looking after things that way.”
Knocker has been in England for just over a decade, winning a Lory Meagher Cup as a player with Warwickshire in 2013. So he knows all about how teams and personnel can change quickly. “I've been about for quite a while, getting used to the migration patterns of people,” Knocker says.
“Sometimes you have fellas like myself, who play for years and then you have guys staying for a few months. That is just the nature of it over here.
“The team is forever changing, I probably have played with 300 people at this stage from all over Ireland. It is a great thing to have a community here, we trying to keep a hurling team and you end up with quite a lot of good players. You can end up going pretty far.”
The Covid disturbed inter-county campaigns meant it was difficult for Lancashire to essentially relaunch as a county team. “It really was, if you look at our results last year, myself and Stan (Murray-Hession) were picking the team, we could see automatically we were two years behind everybody,” he recalls.
“Our fitness levels weren't there or hurling skills weren't there anymore. We have been playing catch-up, but you also have political things with Brexit and the cost of living.
“People aren't moving as much to England as they probably were. If they are, they tend to go to London at the moment or some people might go straight to Australia.”
Murray-Hession’s contribution to the GAA is acknowledged by Knocker. “Stan stepped back three years ago from Fullen Gaels, I picked it up from there,” Knocker responds.
“He stepped back from the county team this year, but he laid a great foundation. I still chat to him quite often about things, I'm only learning my way, really. It is great to have a guy with that amount of knowledge and years of experience at the other end of the phone, whenever you need it.”
A former Antrim minor hurler, Knocker, relished being involved with his home club St John’s. Valuable lessons were learned. “I grew up with a great foundation, really good men were looking after our teams, Joe McCallin, a great GAA family in Belfast, his son Andrew, the McFauls,” Knocker says.
“I was pretty lucky that we had those families and groups of people, who drove hurling on. I went to school in St Mary's, people like Tony Austin wanted us always to do well in hurling. Growing up, especially in Belfast, hurling was centre stage for myself and groups of lads like me which was very good.
“It carried on, we are still friendly, I keep up to date with all of the Antrim games and the St John's games. It does become a central part in your life, it is hard to let go, and it is great when you move away that there is a massive ethos of club and hurling still here.”
Going to GAA headquarters will be a nice occasion, but Knocker is fully aware how that happens. “I think I enjoy the bits of hardship and the boggy days, standing down at a pitch in the freezing cold in the wind and rain,” he laughs.
“Croke Park is a great place, but I'm under no illusion that Saturday is another day to put the overalls on and to get to work. I'm trying to enforce that with the lads, don't get too carried away with the surroundings. Just concentrate on playing hurling to go out to win the game.”
That approach continues to serve Knocker well.