County Hurling Final: Interview with Niall Ward, Longford Slashers Manager

When Martin Glennon captained Longford Slashers to the county senior hurling title in 2001, not too many people expected that the club would have to wait twenty years to be crowned champions again, but that’s exactly what happened, until Cian Kavanagh lifted the JJ Duignan Cup in 2021.

Longford Slashers were managed by Niall Ward last year and he is once again at the helm for the 2022 Final which will take place at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Sunday, September 11th.

Tony Ghee spoke with Niall at a recent training session.

Tony: ‘It was a momentous year for Slashers hurling last year, as the club ended a twenty year wait to be crowned senior hurling champions with victory over Wolfe Tones in the county final.’
Niall: ‘Yes. Last year was a special year and we really enjoyed being crowned champions after all that time, but we are back in the final again this year and we are hoping to build on last year’s success by retaining the title on Sunday. Winning back-to-back titles would be the way to go after a twenty-year absence without the JJ Duignan Cup and that is what we are aiming for. We have not really played well in this years’ championship yet, and I believe that we have flattered to deceive so far.’

Tony: ‘ Looking back at last years county final, there is a saying that goals win matches, and you won it by six points but scoring those four first half goals through Reuben Murray, Cian Kavanagh, Paul Leonard, and Ronan Sheahan, gave you a great platform to go on and record the victory.’
Niall: ‘Yes it did. We just played with no fear and tore into it from the start and probably caught our much-vaunted opponents Wolfe Tones off guard. We have a history of not performing in county finals for such a long time, but we put that right last year and probably were helped by some complacency from the opposition.’

Tony: ‘Slashers as you mentioned have not always performed on county final day and that was particularly true of the 2020 final when you were well beaten by Wolfe Tones, but the 2017 final defeat was the one that got away, Slashers were much the better team on the day, but you somehow lost by a point.’
Niall: ‘That’s true Tony, we shouldn’t have lost that one, but sometimes you need more than good preparation and all the rest that puts a team in a good position going into a final. You need luck on the day as well, and we felt that luck deserted us that day and on other days, but maybe you make your own luck, and this year, we have got that luck as we are fortunate to be back in the county final, and we are very happy to have reached the decider.’

Tony: ‘ You have stated that you are lucky enough to be back in the final, and other people would have that opinion too. Against Clonguish, you were six points down and came back to draw that game with Eoin Donnellan’s late, late goal. Against Wolfe Tones, you were cruising at one stage, but they came storming back, but you just about held on for a one-point win.’
Niall: ‘Yes, this year’s championship has been amazing and very competitive and close. There have been two draws and a one-point win, so only a point between the three teams after three games really, and maybe that’s what the Longford Championship needs, we need that sort of competitiveness between the three clubs to improve standards. If one team was dominating the whole time, it might discourage the other teams, but it is great to see that closeness between the teams.’

Tony: ‘ You have vast experience in the squad with lots of players who have won National Hurling League Division 3B titles and Lory Meagher Championships with the county team, such as, the Murray brothers, Eoin Donnellan, and Cian Kavanagh. Also, Johnny Casey, although Johnny will miss the final after that shoulder injury he sustained against Monaghan in the Lory Meagher Cup. You
also have a Christy Ring Cup winner and Ring All Star in Kildare’s David Harney.’
Niall: ‘We do have a lot of players who have won titles with their counties and a lot of our team played in two National Finals this year with Longford, but we have also lost some good players, the likes of the Longford county keeper, Conor Gallagher who has moved to Cavan, Paul Leonard, a former county player, and William Tunstead. No two years are the same, we have some young players who are in the senior squad for the first time, we have David Harney who you mentioned already, and he is a welcome addition, and David Buckley, a Tipperary hurler, who has been living in Longford for a long time who transferred over from Clonguish. So, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. You cannot take anything for granted. Not many people expected Clonguish to get to the final, most thought that it would be a repeat of last years final, with Wolfe Tones gunning for us. Clonguish are a very good side and they are very well organised, they are maximising their potential and they are just hard to beat, and they are well up for it this year.’

Tony: ‘You mentioned that several younger players have made the step up to senior level last year and this year. You have the likes of Micheál Mulcahy, who has just done his leaving cert, he was a star performer in the final last year, and this year, you have the likes of Matthew Hawes and Zach Tunstead plus a few others.’
Niall: ‘The lifeblood of any club for the future is the youth and we have our minor players training with the senior team, so that there is a pathway of progression there that everyone can see, and it’s good for our senior players as well to see what’s coming through and who they will be playing with in the future. That is all part of nurturing a hurling culture within the club.’

Tony: ‘Finally Niall, you have a management team behind you and they deserve great credit too. Robbie Stakelum, Adrian Flynn, minor coach Niall Mulvihill, and a few others.’
Niall: ‘Niall is heavily involved with the minors but not the senior management, however, he is a huge addition to the club and especially at underage level. Robbie is someone that I grew up playing hurling with and he had a great inter-county career with Longford. Adrian Flynn is the secretary of the overall club here at Slashers. Adrian has been my right-hand man and I could not function without him, and he is a rock behind you.’