CJ enjoying posssible career swan-song

By Alan Rodgers

LAST year the appearance of one player in particular grabbed the attention as the Tyrone hurlers embarked on a run which would take them all the way to Croke Park.

At the beginning of 2020, one CJ McGourty signed up for the Red Hand hurlers. Since then, the St Gall’s player and dual star has become an integral part of the team and produced a series of important performances in league and championship.

Now, as the 2022 season gathers pace, he’s growing in confidence as part of the Tyrone attack. A talent for grabbing goals has seen him link nicely with Tiarnan Murphy, a recent recruit by Michael McShane from the O’Donovan Rossa club in Belfast. His opening goal after a minute in the recent National League Division 3A decider helped Tyrone on the road to eventual victory.

Between them, and with the likes of homegrown talents including Conor Grogan, Damian Casey and Bryan McGurk, Tyrone have been steadily progressing. The recent National League Division 3A success was long-awaited and fully deserved. At the moment, they are in Nickey Rackard Cup action and will be aiming to follow last weekend’s win over Warwickshire with another victory over Fermanagh in round two at Omagh on Sunday.

Currently living in Ardboe, CJ has brought Antrim flair and confidence. He is also determined to see Tyrone hurling continue to improve, and has no doubts about the significance of their recent league triumph in consolidating their recent form.

“This is my third year in the squad and it’s great for the lads to have won the National League. A lot of them like Damian Casey and Reevy (Conor McElhatton) have put in 12 years and made great contributions to Tyrone hurling.

“I suppose we have lent a hand to them boys. Getting up out of Division 3A is an historic achievement for Tyrone and them lads deserve a lot of credit for ploughing through the tough days. Beating Armagh wasn’t easy, but to win that game and get promoted to Division Two shows real development.

“There are a lot of young boys in this team as well who are coming through. Being a teacher and familiar with the Ulster Colleges scene, I’ve saw Tyrone hurling. Tyrone were in the Mageean Cup and I’ve seen Rory Weir and Sean Paul McKernan playing in that.

“That shows that the players will come through if the structures are right at underage level. Hopefully myself and Tiarnan Murphy coming in has given things a bit of a boost.”

Just where this recent positivity around Tyrone hurling eventually ends up remains to be seen. Another good run in the Nickey Rackard Cup and possibly even another Croke Park final appearance is a definite possibility. However, Michael McShane and his players will be well aware of the threat posed by the likes of Donegal and Armagh, both of whom will be smarting from narrow defeats to the Red Hands in the 2021 Nickey Rackard.

Fermanagh on Sunday is also a potential banana skin. They won the Lory Meagher last year and display plenty of expertise in running a fancied Donegal team close in the opening round last week. Suffice to say that Tyrone will not be writing them off.

A feature of the management of Michael McShane has been the arrival of new players. CJ McGourty is quick to stress both his and Tiarnan Murphy’s determination to make their mark with the Red Hands.

“You can have things two ways. You could have boys coming up the road who just play. But you take every game as it comes and try and enjoy them. I really care about hurling – it’s probably my main sport and Tiarnan has come up this past few months and really contributed to training and the matches,” he adds.

“He has really driven things on. Credit must be given to Mickey (McShane) and Stevie (McHugh) because they’re not just there the craic for the want of a better word, but to develop Tyrone hurling. Obviously with the good foundations in place and the fact that we’re now beating the likes of Armagh who are a very good team it shows that the work is paying off.

“The league final was the third of four fairly important games against Armagh. We meet them in the Nickey Rackard Cup in a few weeks and the players on both teams know each other from club matches. It’s nip and tuck and there’s nothing between the teams.”

“We got off to a great start against Armagh and were 10 points up when they got a goal. They upped the intensity in the second half, but we missed a lot of wides and even though we got the job mainly done in the first half we were disappointed in the second half display.

“That’s something which we’ve been working on improving since then.”

CJ, whose family were synonymous with Antrim GAA, was a member of the St Gall’s team which reached the 2006 All-Ireland Club Final. In 2022, 16 years on, he is back again on the Croke Park trail and enjoying every minute of his time in the Red Hand jersey.

“This is just as sweet. Obviously this isn’t an All-Ireland Club or anything like that. But these chances aren’t going to come around much longer for me, so it means everything to be playing and winning with the Tyrone hurlers”

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