Scotland shinty stalwart John Barr is to be rewarded for over a decade of service by leading Ronald Ross’ Scots out tomorrow against Ireland’s hurlers in Inverness.
The 32-year-old Glen Urquhart stopper has the battle scars to show for 11 years at the highest level and his vocal skills and galvanising presence could be just as pivotal as his big-match experience.
This year’s Marine Harvest International challenge takes on a fresh complexion after five years as an aggregate-score,two-game series and, instead, both nations will be unleashed to go for broke in two standalone contests.
After steering Scotland to their first victory since 2010 last year, in Inverness, dark blue boss Ross will harbour quiet aspirations of securing the Marine Harvest quaich with another win on home soil at Bught Park.
And Barr, who acknowledges that leading out his country is “one for the grandchildren”, believes the Scots should be confident after restoring some national pride last year.
“That win was vital for us because it kept the fixture competitive and it showed we can take the game to the Irish,” he said.
“In all my years playing international shinty, our wins have usually been by one or two goals but last year’s nine-point margin was a good win.
“With the rule change, there won’t be so much pressure to rack up a lead in the home game. A win by a point will be enough. Hopefully we can replicate last year’s win.”
In a further tweak to the cross-discipline jigsaw, goalkeepers will have to take goal hits from the grass, something which should work in Scotland’s favour.
As opposed to shinty, Ireland’s stoppers are normally permitted to flick the ball up first. As a defender, Barr is relieved the Scots may be afforded some momentary respite from the airborne barrage.
“I think that change should help,” he added. “Ireland are so good with the ball on the stick that they can turn defence into immediate attack with one quick hit from the keeper.
“This way, you would hope more of the balls land in the centre line and bring the midfield into play.”
In terms of campaigns, Barr could barely have asked for more. Domestically, he finally landed the MacTavish Cup on a heady day in June.
Then, on Sunday night, he took the call to say that he was to don the Scotland captain’s armband.
“I suppose, when you set out your career ambitions, you want to represent your country and win cups in the highest division,” he said. “To lead out your country is another level. It is a huge honour.”
Ireland travel to Caledonia with a new management team and several changes from the class of 2014 that lost in the Highlands but ultimately claimed the series prize in Newry.
Jeffrey Lynskey and Gregory O’Kane bring an 18-player panel. They may be without big hitters Patrick Horgan and Patrick Maher but Scotland know their ‘unknowns’ won’t be strangers to hurling aficionados across the sea.