The Scotland side will fly out to Dublin for this Saturday’s first leg of the annual shinty-hurling series knowing they are entering an intimidating environment at Ireland’s spiritual home of Gaelic sport.
Croke Park is once more the venue for the cross-code clash — which acts as a forerunner to the Gaelic-Football-Aussie-Rules clash between Ireland and Australia later in the day.
The Scots haven’t won the series since 2008 and, though last year’s first leg in Inverness was a competitive affair, the shinty players lost heavily in Ennis as they tried to turn around a six-point deficit.
The decision to go all out early to redress the imbalance backfired as the Irish took advantage of the five-point goal rule to end the Scots’ resistance.
However, it is a vastly different Scottish side that heads for Dublin 12 months on, bolstered with greater physical presence and experience.
With the return of the three-point goal, the Scots hope to put last year’s disappointment firmly to the back of their minds as they cross the white line.
Lovat forward Kevin Bartlett hopes to round off the most successful season of his career with a first-ever senior shinty-hurling victory against the Irish. Bartlett was an awed spectator the last time the Scots starred — and won — at Croke Park, back in 2010.
Playing in such an august arena, he admits, is a dream come true in a season that has already brought him his first senior medal and a second-place finish in the Orion Group Premiership. A victory against Ireland would cap a memorable campaign for the player who has been outstanding for Scotland since making his debut two years ago.
“I watched in 2010 when I was over in Dublin with the under-21s and I am really, really looking forward to playing this time,” said the 24-year-old.
“That match was played before the international rules football match and, by the end of the shinty-hurling game, the stadium was really filling up with Irish fans. It is an amazing place. Even watching it was an experience so playing there will be like nothing you will ever get in Scotland.
“In saying that, the Irish will not want to lose in front of their fans at the home of hurling. I really enjoy these games and we just need to show we can beat them. I’ve not won a senior international yet so it would be great to do it this time.”
National coach Drew McNeil has urged the players to banish the memories of recent defeats.
“As soon as the players regrouped in the changing room after last year’s match in Ireland, we told them to forget about it. It was simply a bad day and you get those in shinty and shinty-hurling,” he said. “In an ideal world, we would have taken some of our early chances and met an Irish side not quite so good as they were that day, but we knew we needed to move on.
“I think last year the Irish knew we didn’t want to give fouls away and maybe got away with a few things themselves that might be punished in shinty, but we’ve learned from that. We’ve got a lot of experienced players in the squad and guys who can give us that bit of additional presence, which will be even more important back at Bught Park in November.”
Throw-in at Croke Park is at 4.15pm and the match will be televised live by Irish channel TG4 over the internet, and later by BBC Alba.
In terms of how the series is decided, a win constitutes two points while a draw is one point. If a team scores two or more goals during the game, they are awarded an additional point, while the aggregate scores only come into play if the teams are level on points after the two matches.
The second test takes place a week after at the Bught Park in Inverness. Throw-in is at 2pm and the match will be televised live by BBC2 Scotland. The second test will be preceded by the shinty-camogie meeting between Scotland and Dublin and the under-21 shinty-hurling clash.
MEANWHILE, the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Camanachd Association will pilot a new shinty-hurling game after the first-leg clash is finished in Dublin.
At half time in the international rules football match, a 10-minute demonstration match will be played called “Iomain”.
Iomain is the old Gaelic word for shinty and hurling and Scots and Irish players will play a 10-minute exhibition game with a new hybrid shinty-hurling stick. The prototype stick has been trialled by the squad and was designed by caman producer Alan MacPherson.