The battle lines have been drawn ahead of Saturday’s shinty/hurling international between Scotland and Ireland at Páirc Esler, Newry.
The Scots have some significant obstacles to overcome if they are to retain the Mowi Quaich as Ireland have announced one of their strongest squads ever, with eight Liam MacCarthy Cup players, including Padraig Walsh – a two-time All-Ireland winner with Kilkenny and twice a GAA-GPA All-Star.
They have also named a formidable management team, led by Damien Coleman (Galway), who is supported by Kieran Kingston (Cork), Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton (Antrim) and Michael Kavanagh (Kilkenny).
Two rule changes also favour the Irish, as their keeper can now catch the ball and it is now only one point, not two, for a direct free-hit over the bar.
The Irish seem reinvigorated by this year’s clash, holding several specific training sessions for all their players, while the GAA has made a particular push to publicise the game and increase home support.
And if all that isn’t enough, the Newry venue is where Ireland last secured victory in the cross-codes challenge.
So what does Scotland manager Garry Reid plan in response?
He said: “We have selected a strong squad made up of players from the eight top teams in the country.
“We have nine players who have experience playing for Scotland at senior level, alongside 11 new senior caps, but the shinty pathway means all our players have previously played shinty/hurling, so they all know the challenge that awaits them.
“We also have a backroom team that I respect and trust and who I know will work tirelessly to get the best out of the players.”
Turning his attention to the Irish, Reid added: “There is no doubt this is the biggest challenge that we have seen from the Irish, certainly in my time, but all we can do is be the best version of ourselves and play to our strengths and give it all we have.
“I have fond memories of Páirc Eisler as it was the venue for my first match as under-21 manager, where Scotland secured victory at that level for the first time on Irish soil.
“I trust in the players to put in a performance that reflects all that is good in our game. If they play with spirit, skill, and pride, then I can’t ask for more than that.”
Scotland skipper coming up against familiar foes
Ireland manager Coleman makes two changes to his original squad with Andrew Gilsenan-Kavanagh (Wicklow) and Caolan Taggart (Down) replaced by Ben Conneely (Offaly) and James Toher (Meath).
Newtonmore’s Iain Robinson is one of the new Scotland caps, and he said: “All you know for sure is that it’ll be a really tough test as whatever team the Irish pick, it’s always strong, fast and athletic.
“The Scottish team has a lot of new faces, including myself, but I think all the new boys have had a taste of playing the Irish in the under-21s so know what to expect.”
The shinty/hurling world can also be a small one as Scotland skipper Roddy Macdonald found out.
He said: “I was at a wedding in Barcelona a few weeks ago where I met this guy in an Irish bar.
“Now, I thought I was quite tall, but he was towering over me, so I asked if he played hurling. It turns out he is Fionan Mackessy from Kerry, who played for the Ireland under-21s in 2019 and is playing for the seniors this year, so it’ll be good to catch up with him again.”
There is another link as the Scotland and Ireland captains are also no strangers.
Macdonald explained: “Ireland captain Neil McManus has featured several times in the internationals, and I actually played directly against him for the under-21s back in the day when I was half back, and he was half forward.”
Macdonald and McManus resume rivalries on Saturday, but only one of them will get their hands on the Mowi Quaich following what is sure to be a breathless encounter.
Throw in is at 2.45pm, and Scotland supporters unable to make the trip will still be able to watch the international as it will be shown live on the official TG4 YouTube channel.