MAYBE it was a mistake for the Gaelic Athletic Association to name two Irish players in its 2008 Hurling All-Stars team on the eve of Saturday's shinty/hurling international at Nowlan Park. Instead of psyching Scotland out in Kilkenny, it seemed to have the reverse effect as news spread through the Scots' hotel on Friday night.
Prior to this deserved 13-12 victory in front of a poor crowd, Fraser Mackenzie's men eavesdropped on an Irish dressing room conversation which made it clear that losing to the Scots in the hurling heartlands would be too much to stomach.
One could only imagine how the Irish players must have felt after a fast and furious 70 minutes in which the Scots refused to stand aside for reputations. Ireland chief Lester Ryan had done all he could to reverse their recent run of three defeats, enlisting Kilkenny trio Eddie Brennan, Derek Lyng and Tommy Walsh, fresh from being crowned All-Ireland champions following a victory at Croke Park against Waterford last month and both Brennan and Walsh were listed in Ireland's team of the year on Friday.
Considering the context, this result was in many ways more impressive than the 19-11 victory at Croke Park in 2006. Manager Fraser Mackenzie, taking charge for the first time, did not have the quality at his disposal he would have initially preferred. Nevertheless, his bravery in including nine new caps, some untested at this level, paid off. This was not a performance of individuals, it was a collective achievement.
"In some ways, it is easier to teach boys who have never played this game before because they don't come with ideas," said Scotland assistant boss, Drew McNeil. "The Irish can't understand that we will try to drive down a penalty hit and get bodies in front of it. They were saying we were nuts, but these things intimidate people as well. To win in Kilkenny against a side with All-Stars in it is a great result."
To be fair to Ireland, Brennan and Derek Lyng, in particular, exerted a considerable influence.
"Ireland are bringing more and more skill into this game but our boys made them look normal, really," said forward Hector Whitelaw, whose physical presence and shooting ability were harnessed skilfully by the Scots.
Ireland started with a steady rhythm but some of their initial poor shooting surprised even the Scots, who took an early lead through single strikes from Whitelaw and John Stewart. The home side's habit of pulling efforts wide couldn't last and all their seven points in the first half came from strikes over the uprights.
Brendan McGourty, Brennan (2), Lyng (2) and Brendan Murtagh (2) were their marksmen. Still, against a stiff wind and rain, Scotland exited at the break 8-7 up.
Whitelaw amassed a further four points while Kenny Ross added a crucial two pointer from the right touchline.
In the second half it was a three-point goal from Stewart which really carved out this victory. Whitelaw and sub Eddie Tembo gathered single scores and the Irish took points from Murtagh, Lyng and a late penalty goal, again from Murtagh. It wasn't enough for them and who would bet against even more big names coming into the picture next year?
Ireland: G Clarke; D Shaw, E Coady, T Walsh, SKavanagh, G Bermingham, D Clarke, Sean Og O Hailpin, D Lyng, P Branniff, M Burke, EBrennan, B McGourty, B Murtagh. Subs: JShaw for McGourty (47); J Glancy for Branniff (70); S Kelly for D Clarke (70).
Scotland: S McNeil, J Barr, S Campbell, AMackenzie, I MacDonald, S Nicholson; NRobertson, K Ross, F MacRae, G Innes, NMacPhee, J Stewart; H Whitelaw, A Corrigan. Subs: R Graham for Nicholson (43); E Tembo for Stewart (61).
Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)