By Alan Rodgers
HOPE is springing in rich measure among the Carrickmore, Éire Óg minor hurlers as they bid to become Ulster champions this Saturday.
But the teenagers, who have recorded impressive victories on the provincial stage so far, will have to be on top form. For standing against them will be Antrim champions, Loughgiel.
It sounds tough and certainly promises to be a difficult assignment for the Éire Ógs. Nevertheless, they are entering the tie buoyed by a good semi-final win over Down side, Bredagh, and the confidence of a strong run in both Tyrone and Ulster with provincial silverware already secured with an Ulster Shield final win over St Eunan’s.
The team defeated Bredagh last weekend and is managed by Dermot and Brendan Begley and Bob Costello. They are under no illusions about what to expect, although experience so far suggests that Carrickmore are well able to meet the challenge ahead.
“We know what we’re facing against the Antrim champions. Carrickmore have been playing in the lower divisions, but Loughgiel are up there in the top in the minor leagues and it’s a big ask for our players,” said Costello.
“It’s a challenge the players are aware of. We wouldn’t be in the same circles of them, but they’ll take good confidence from the season so far in Ulster.
“Winning the shield title was a good boost. The county final in Tyrone went to penalties and was a big hurdle for the lads as well. We’ve never been looking too far ahead, because these young fellas have been going around getting hammered in a lot of matches.
“For them to get to this stage competing in Division One of the Derry league is something that they’re now really enjoying. They’re training hard and playing well and enjoying their hurling.
“These lads have been travelling all around Ulster for games. Bredagh were favourites going into the Ulster semi-final, but it was nothing that they weren’t expecting. They’re getting more exposure to really competitive games and the resilience has been built up over the course of a few years.”
Among those who will be hoping to produce more of the same quality hurling in the final will be Aidan Woods, Shea Munroe, Francie Hurson and Cormac McCrystal. But overall it’s a big team effort and the determination, skill and commitment shown in recent matches is sure to stand to them against Loughgiel.
“For a group of young players, they’ve matured an awful lot during the course of the past year,” added Costello.
“They’ve gone from a decent u-15 team to being a very decent at u-17 with good heads on their shoulders. It will need all that against Loughgiel. We know what we’re facing, but the players are licking their lips at the thought of it. It’s a chance to see how far they can go and something that they’re absolutely excited about and can’t wait to get going.”
The game is at Dean McGlinchey Park in Ballinascreen and throw-in is 1pm.