By Alan Rodgers
PRIDE alone is at stake when the Tyrone hurling complete their inaugural Christy Ring Cup campaign with a home tie against London, which will see them bid to repeat the success over the Exiles of earlier this year.
It was an emotional and exciting night in Dungannon when the Red Hands recorded that victory, the first time that they had played competitively since the tragic death of Damian Casey last year. Now, more of the same commitment and determination would do nicely as they prepare to meet the visitors again.
This is a game with little significance. Small margins have meant that the promotion hopes of Michael McShane and the players have now disappeared. In hindsight, the defeat to Sligo probably proved crucial as they are currently in the top two.
At the other end, London are already relegated to the Nickey Rackard Cup for 2024.
Nevertheless, make no mistake that this encounter will be a full-blooded encounter in which both teams will be aiming to end the season on a high note.
There was more disappointment for Tyrone last weekend when they lost out to Meath. Scores in the closing stages earned the Royals an eight-point victory, and they are now in pole position to reach the final. But there were also positives from a Red Hand viewpoint, and they will be aiming to build on those this Saturday in Carrickmore.
Midfielder, Bryan McGurk, was among those who impressed despite the defeat to Meath. He believes the opportunity is now there for them to build on that performance, and lay the groundwork for more progress in the coming years.
“Our match against Meath was a very tough one, because they are a top class side. Unfortunately, we just fell short at the finish,” said the Carrickmore, Éire Óg player.
“We were always trailing the game and if we’d been able to catch them then there’s no doubt that we could have pushed on.
“There were a couple of goal chances as well, but they were always able to have someone on the line to save and that’s likely down to the experience that they have at this level.
“Getting up to that standard is something that we’re working hard to achieve, and there’s no doubt that we’re getting there. There is a lot to learn for us.”
Hope, then, is in rich supply around the camp as they prepare for this clash against London. It’s one that they are certainly capable of winning, and the aim of exorcising the disappointment of the Sligo performance at the same venue will be another motivating factor.
Team manager McShane has helped develop a side which is gradually growing in confidence, and the experience of playing at the Christy Ring and Division Two levels is one that both the management and players have definitely relished.
“We’ve got London this week and it’s a massive game for us to finish the Christy Ring Cup on a high note,” added McGurk.
“It’s about picking ourselves up from the Meath defeat, look forward to the game and try and give our best display again.
“Everybody was disappointed in the immediate aftermath of the Meath game, but you have to move ahead and the London match on Saturday is the best opportunity to do that. We’re looking forward to it.”
Tyrone, then, will be hoping to send out a big message about their intentions for 2024 as they face into their final outing of what has been a memorable and progressive 2023 season for a team that has successfully secured its survival in both the higher ranks of league and championship.