By Alan Rodgers
IT will be a poignant occasion for the Tyrone hurlers when their opening game in Division 2B of the National League also serves as the ideal opportunity to remember the player whose efforts proved so crucial in winning them promotion.
Eight months have now passed since the tragic death of Damian Casey. The intervening period has undoubtedly been a difficult one for all who knew him, and nowhere moreso than within the ranks of his family and the Dungannon Eoghan Ruadh club.
The club are putting the finishing touches to their preparations this Saturday night’s match against London in round one of the league. This will be a chance to remember the contribution of the Red Hand attacking star, and serve his memory well by a top rank display on the pitch once the formal proceedings are completed.
“Damian’s contribution to this team will always be remembered by all the players and management. Saturday night will be an occasion and an opportunity for us to acknowledge what he did for this team as a player over the past decade,” defender Chris Kearns said.
“But when the game gets underway, it’s up to the players on the field to serve his memory well by our performances. We’ll recall him before the start and then focus on what we do on the field representing Tyrone in Damian’s honour. This is something which we’ve talked about in the past few months.
“It’s our first match since Damian’s sad passing and we’ll be aiming to get a good result. I’ve no doubt that we’re capable of beating London and going on to compete very well in the higher division.”
The Red Hands played London in a challenge match last year and will be hoping to make their mark this time as well.
It’s the first match in a campaign which will see Tyrone aim to consolidate their position in Division Two. Tough matches lie ahead, but the indications from past experience show that they would be capable of getting results against many of the teams in the higher division.
Team manager, Michael McShane, has also decided to remain in charge and Chris Kearns believes that the backroom team has been crucial in their preparations for this opening tie, in addition to the inclusion of around a dozen new players to the squad for the incoming League and Christy Ring Cup season.
“Michael and the rest of the management team have been brilliant in helping us prepare for Saturday night.
“There’s no problem asking them about anything and it’s good to have that continuity with last year,” added the Naomh Colum Cille player.
“We got to the Nickey Rackard Cup Final in the first year and then to win the title last year was absolutely brilliant.
“This is a new campaign now, but at the same time there’s nothing that I believe we can’t cope with. We’ve played most of the teams in the Championship and League over the past couple of seasons and it’s about keeping improving.
“The good thing about this year so far as well is that the panel has now been extended to about 32 players. That means we’ve been able to get more out of training sessions and the in-house games have been extremely competitive which is good.
“We’ve talked about the importance of Saturday’s night match. It’s about remembering Damian Casey and then doing him proud by our efforts on the field. The fact that it’s a home game at Dungannon will hopefully give us an edge as well.”
Now the hope will be that the memory of their lost hero will help the hurlers make their mark and get their Division Two campaign off to the best possible start with what would be a crucial victory.