CJ: “That was for Damian”

By Alan Rodgers

ALL the momentum gained from their marvellous first-day victory at the weekend will be carried forward by the Tyrone hurlers when they make the long trip to Wicklow for their second clash this weekend.

There was no doubting the satisfaction of both the players and management thanks to the big win over London.

On a night of high emotion, they paid the perfect tribute to the memory of the late Damian Casey with a win which saw them come from behind. More importantly, the skill, commitment and sheer determination displayed by them are qualities which they will aim to take into their subsequent matches.

Wicklow, of course, represent a difficult outing, especially away from home. The Garden County lost out to Meath by 2-24 to 2-14 in round one, so the pressure is on them to make the most of home advantage against the Red Hand County.

Tyrone Michael McShane and his players will be well aware of the task facing them. However, as ace attacker CJ McGourty explained following their win over London, the confidence-boost provided by the victory should not be under-estimated.

The former St Gall’s and Antrim star had intended retiring from the Tyrone hurlers for 2023. However, following the death of Casey last year, he says there was really no choice except return to the fold and give things at least one more year.

“My family were very understanding to me about coming back this year. Everyone was put into a situation and a lot of the older players were maybe intending to retire given what we achieved last year. But to be back against London was really emotional for the group of players.

“We met before the match and passing the grave coming in the road brought back the memories of how good a person and a player that Damian was,” he said.

“It gave us that little extra fire in the belly which was what we needed. Seeing Sean and the rest of the Casey family there made things even more emotional. The warmth that they showed us said it all.

“They have been through a very difficult time and we’ll continue to be there for them because Damian was such a big part of their family and obviously of our group as well. Out on the field, we were always thinking that there were people hurting more than we were. That gave us an extra part, and looking Sean and Susan in the eye. We did him justice but it would have been so much better if he had been out there with us.”

Although McGourty only played with Casey for two years, he readily acknowledges the impact that he had on him both as a teammates and a friend.

He also praised the contribution of the management and players to what was a significant start to the campaign for the hurlers. They now hope to make the most of their opportunities against Wicklow this weekend.

“It wasn’t looking so good for us when we were four points down at one stage in the second half. We were trying to use all our own experience and realise that we’re good enough to be playing in this league and at this level.

“The first half was good to stay in the game and see where we were. But this is only on match, and it’s important to continue Damian’s memory next week, the week after and in all the matches,” he added.

“His family and club-mates need more support and if our performances can give them a spring in the step for a few hours or days then that’s vital. Sean was at the dinner dance that we had, and the fact that they were at the first match was a credit to them.

“For a club like Dungannon to do what they’ve done is an absolute credit. Everything went like clockwork last weekend. They helped us come to terms with what happened on the day after the news broke. We hope that we get more games in Dungannon and Carrickmore because there’s a great atmosphere.

“Wicklow is going to be another big game. Aughrim is always going to be a very tricky away game. Whether it’s the National Hurling or Football League, it’s a nightmare to get away from with a result.”

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