Sligo captain Weir looking forward to PwC All-Stars match
By John Harrington
By any metric, 2019 has been an incredible year for James Weir.
Aged just 19, he captained the Sligo hurlers to a Nicky Rackard Cup success that no-one outside of the camp would have predicted at the start of the season.
He was then rewarded for his excellent performances in defence by winning a place on the 2019 Champions 15 team that was made up of the best hurlers from the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard, and Lory Meagher Cup.
And now the icing on top of an already sweet cake has been his inclusion on the PwC Hurling All-Stars touring party that arrived in Abu Dhabi last night.
In tomorrow’s PwC All-Stars match he’ll get the chance to test himself against household hurling names he’s only ever previously viewed from a distance.
“It's great to be out here in Abu Dhabi in the good weather and hanging out with all the Liam MacCarthy Cup boys,” said Weir.
“It's cool. If someone had said I'd be out there at the start of the year I'd have laughed at them.
“I'm looking forward to the match now and getting to play with fellas you'd normally be going to Croke Park to watch. It'll be cool to be on the same pitch as them.”
Sligo’s achievement in winning the Nicky Rackard Cup his year is all the more laudable considering they won the Lory Meagher Cup in 2018.
Consolidation in the Rackard Cup would have been regarded as progress for the newly promoted team, so to win it exceeded most people’s expectations.
“It hasn't really sunk in yet,” admits Weir. “Getting to Croke Park again was a big thing for us but to go on and win it was a very good achievement because no-one really gave us a chance. I think we were 40-1 outsiders before the first game against Louth to win it at all.
“Even going into the Final we were big outsiders. So to pull it off was a major achievement for us.
“It was special. There was a serious crowd of Sligo supporters compared to the previous year at the Lory Meagher Cup Final. Hurling in Sligo has come on an awful lot in the last three or so years and the support we're getting every year is growing.
“At the Final this year there was as serious crowd so hopefully they will get behind us even more now next year when we're in the Christy Ring Cup.”
Sligo’s improvement as a hurling county hasn’t happened by accident. It’s the product of a sustained focus on improving the quality of underage coaching.
“There's more work being done to promote hurling in the county and there's more funding going into hurling development at underage level,” says Weir.
“Most clubs now in Sligo would have an underage hurling team which wouldn't have been the case before. A lot of hard work has gone into hurling in the county over the course of the last 10 years in terms of underage coaching and it's all starting to come through now.
“We were probably the first group to get brought into that system and we're starting to reap the rewards of it.”
The prospect of Sligo competing in the Christy Ring Cup would have seemed very unlikely little over a year ago, but that’s the challenge that faces them in 2020.
As far as Weir is concerned, it’s one that should be relished rather than feared.
“We got the group three weeks ago and we're in with Derry, Wicklow, and Offaly, so they're three big challenges,” he says.
“Derry and Wicklow have been there or thereabouts in “The Christy Ring Cup for the last few years and then you have Offaly coming down from the Joe McDonagh.
“It's a big task for us, but we want to keep driving the thing on. It's a great challenge for us to play a county like Offaly in the Championship.
“20 years ago no-one would thought that could ever happen. It's great to look forward to.”