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Hurling previews: Derry aiming for first final since 2015

Christy Ring Cup semi-final

Derry v Sligo

Saturday, Owenbeg, 2pm

DERRY have really dug in during this Christy Ring Cup campaign and they are well poised to reach their first final since 2015.

In their first group game they produced an excellent comeback to defeat Roscommon by a point in Athleague. They were six points down at the break and also a man behind following Darragh McCloskey’s red card after just eight minutes, however they excelled in the second half to sneak home.

McCloskey was suspended for a tricky looking encounter with Wicklow but the side produced some brilliant spells to win out 2-23 to 0-18.

A brace of goals from Odhran McKeever in the second half proved decisive as the Oakleafers overturned a one-point interval deficit. Cormac O’Doherty, who is playing a bit deeper this season, hit seven points too.

While he is still the main man with 15 points across the two games, there does seem to be a lessening reliance on the Sleacht Néill star for scores. Eleven different players have scored across the two games with eight of those finding the target more than once.

Sligo are one of the fastest improving hurling teams in the country. Lory Meagher Cup champions in 2018, Nickey Rackard Cup winners in 2019 and their quarter-final win over Roscommon ensures a third straight season at Christy Ring level. They also cruised to the Division 3A title this year.

They are in the semi-finals courtesy of that Connacht derby win, but it was a dramatic affair with Mark Hannify finding the net deep into additional time to send them through and relegate the Rossies.

While the win over Wicklow meant that Derry avoided the much harder semi-final prospect of Offaly, this will still be a serious test of their credentials. Ulster sides Tyrone and Armagh can attest to Sligo’s strength this season.

Still though, Derry should get through but not by much. Home advantage is sure to be worth a crucial point or two.

Verdict: Derry

Nickey Rackard Cup semi-final

Armagh v Mayo

Saturday, Avant Money Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, 1.30pm

IT’S been a strange old season for Armagh, but perhaps the seven goals they put past Leitrim last weekend will spark something in the Orchard team.

Ok, the opposition was low quality, but a job still needed to be completed and it was a great day in particular for Danny Magee as he raised an incredible five green flags. The Lurgan man has had a real eye for goal since joining the senior panel, and that could be vital for the squad heading into the business end of the competition.

They will enter the tie without their most physical presence in attack, Eoin McGuinness, after he was sent off early in the 7-25 to 1-21 win last weekend.

It’s Connacht opposition once again here, but the step up in quality will be fairly substantial. Mayo topped Group A win wins over Donegal and Leitrim.

They did lose star attacker Shane Boland to a red card last time out, and if that suspension holds then they will be without one of their best attacking options. They can call on four-time football All-Star Keith Higgins though.

Armagh are aiming for their fifth final appearance in just seven seasons, but they find Mayo a tad too strong.

Verdict: Mayo

Nickey Rackard Cup semi-final

Tyrone v Donegal

Saturday, Carrickmore, 2pm

TYRONE boss Michael McShane has said that it has been a combative week of training for his squad ahead of this derby game with a few knocks and niggles accumulated, but he doesn’t expect any player to miss out.

The Red Hands set up this last-four clash with a gutsy two-point win away to Armagh. They were seven points down in the second half but with Damian Casey, Bryan McGurk, Michael Little and Chris Kearns prominent, they were able to reel in their opponents.

It was McGurk who scored the goal in the 1-18 to 1-16 win at the Athletic Grounds and he really is in great form this season. The game showed that Tyrone remain patchy. When they’re on, as they showed throughout the league, they can be explosive – but it seems it’s still only 15-minute spells here and there.

Donegal boss Mickey McCann’s biggest concern so far in the tournament has been the concession of goals, six in all. Four of those came against Leitrim, and they also conceded eight goals in their Division 2B campaign.

They were playing at a higher level than Tyrone in the National Hurling League and that should give them an edge here. They hammered Mayo in the league and also got the better of Roscommon. Derry also only had a point to spare against them in a high-scoring thriller. They have to travel to Carrickmore, and that will make this task trickier, but not impossible.

Verdict: Donegal

Lory Meagher Cup semi-final

Longford v Fermanagh

Saturday, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 2pm

FERMANAGH picked up an impressive win over Monaghan last weekend, one of their better results in recent seasons.

If manager Joe Baldwin was told his side would concede four goals, he wouldn’t have expected to progress – but the Erne defence kept Monaghan to 10 scores in the 3-15 to 4-6 victory.

Kevin McGarry was only fit to come off the bench in the loss to Cavan, but he was in front the start here while Sean Corrigan, Caolan Duffy and Barney McAuley all excelled.

Having already defeated 3A opposition last week, Fermanagh must repeat the dose against a free-scoring Longford outfit. They hit eight goals in the group stages against Louth and in Joe O’Brien they have a real attacking talent.

This is probably a bridge too far for Fermanagh, but if they can cut back on the goal concessions then maybe they have an outside chance.

Verdict: Longford

Lory Meagher Cup semi-final

Cavan v Louth

Saturday, Kingspan Breffni, 2.15pm

A WIN over Fermanagh – the only game in Group B – secured Cavan a spot in the Lory Meagher Cup semi-finals.

It is the first time the side have ever qualified for this stage of the competition, and they will feel that they have a real chance of making even more history.

A late sprint to the finish saw them past Fermanagh with a Sean Keating goal and points from Diarmaid Carney (2) and Brian Fitzgerald propelling them to a 1-16 to 0-17 win.

Louth are managed by former Armagh dual star Paul McCormack and had an awful start to the competition as they conceded eight goals against Longford. They bounced back impressively though and beat Monaghan. Their players sat out the club action last week to remain fresh for this game.

Verdict: Louth

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22 June 2019; Danny Magee of Armagh in action against Niall Feehily of Sligo during the Nicky Rackard Cup Final match between Armagh and Sligo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Matt BrowneSportsfile

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26 July 2017; Brian Cassidy of Derry in action against Liam Savage of Down during the Bord Gáis Energy Ulster GAA Hurling U21 Championship Final match between Derry and Down at Corrigan Park in Belfast. Photo by Oliver McVeighSportsfile

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