Scotland's Ireland bound shinty-hurling squad preparing for its "toughest test in years" ahead of border showdown in Newry
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Scotland and Caberfeidh manager Garry Reid reckons the shinty-hurling squad faces its toughest international test in many years in Ireland this weekend.
There is huge excitement on both sides of the Irish Sea surrounding the hybrid sporting fixture’s return after a four-year absence since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
The Scots had triumphed in the last five meetings prior to the hiatus, with the Irish having failed to taste victory since 2014.
Ominously for the Scots, though, that victory came the last time a match was held at the 2023 venue, Newry’s 20,000 capacity Páirc Esler.
Hopes are high for a good attendance in the Northern Irish border town, with Reid sounding a warning about the scale of challenge in store.
Three factors fuel his caution – Ireland’s strength, their coaching excellence and a rule change that might prove detrimental to the shinty side.
Ahead of the team’s flight out from Glasgow on Friday morning, Reid said: “It feels like it is the final bit of the jigsaw back in terms of returning to normality after the pandemic.
“There is definitely excitement. I was fortunate enough to be across at the launch in Dublin last week and certainly, from a GAA and Irish point of view, the excitement is at a different level from previous years.
“Their squad looks to be at a different level also. They are fielding six top tier players and then the best of the rest. It is going to be a challenge.
“It is a great fixture for our game, allowing the players this rare opportunity to represent their country. Certainly, that was the messaging the Irish were giving last week as well.
“There seems to be a renewed appetite and recognition of it as a great occasion.
“I’m very conscious it is going to be one of the toughest challenges we have had in recent memory to come back home victorious.”
As well as the strength of the Irish squad and coaching team, Reid pointed to rule changes.
He said: “Previously, there was a 3-2-1 points system for the game. From the ground, for a free hit, it was two points.
“They have restored it to what they play in hurling, 3 and 1 – three points for a goal and one point for hitting it over the bar.
“That plays more to their strengths and takes away the advantage we had in being very accurate from the ground, with the likes of Kevin Bartlett and Steven MacDonald previously deadly in putting it over the bar.
“The goalkeeper being allowed to catch it also changes our tactical approach a wee bit. If we just lob balls onto the goalkeeper, he will now just catch it and lob it down the other end.
“We are also heading to Newry, the place where they had their last victory in 2014. They are doing their utmost to raise awareness of the match so we’re hoping there will be a decent crowd in the stadium.
“I hope we can go across and just represent shinty, trying to compete and play as much shinty as possible.
“If we get the balance of it right, the shinty-hurling experience for players and spectators is a good spectacle.”
Reid, who is delighted to have Kyles Athletic’s vastly-experienced and medal-laden Roddy MacDonald as captain, added: “It actually surprised me how big the changeover was from pre-pandemic internationals.
“We have 11 players who will earn their first cap as senior players. I couldn’t believe that was the case.
“That will be another challenge, but we also have nine players who have experienced it before and are very experienced generally.
“The strength of our new players coming in is a positive, but it will be a challenge.
“We haven’t had that big a preparation together as a squad. The game was only confirmed in the middle of September so the game has come around quickly.”