By Alan Rodgers
A PLACE in the Christy Ring Cup final is now the target that’s within reach for the Tyrone hurlers as they prepare for a crucial clash boosted by the two excellent displays which they have produced so far in the competition.
It has been a really optimistic start for the Red Hands who now sit second on the table on score difference. But, with games against Meath and London approaching fast in the next few weeks, this Sunday’s clash against Sligo in Carrickmore is especially important.
New targets are being set by the players following their draw with Derry and victory over Mayo. They feel that they have the ability to push on, and another win this weekend would set them up perfectly for the closing brace of matches.
Tyrone’s progress so far in 2023 has been remarkable. Skill, hunger and commitment have been displayed in abundance, their teamwork has been exemplary and that kind of work-rate will be demanded once more in this second home tie.
Naomh Colmcille’s Chris Kearns have been among the most impressive performers for the Red Hands this season so far. He’s anxious and determined to maintain that momentum as they prepare for crucial challenges ahead.
“We played Mayo in the Nickey Rackard final two years ago, but they were further down the line than us at that stage and it was also our first year with Michael McShane as manager. The hard work was probably not done and I felt that we owed Mayo something last Saturday,” he said.
“We hurled well against them and the momentum of the Derry draw and then Saturday’s game have left us in reasonable shape. But there’s no guarantees as we prepare to play Sligo this weekend.
“London beat Sligo in the relegation play-off and then Sligo turned around and beat them. Every team in this competition has improved from the league. The ground is harder, the ball is moving faster and bounces a little more generously.
“But we believe that we can win this competition. No team is a mile ahead of any other, so we play Sligo next and hopefully if we get the win there in Carrickmore then that will set us up.”
Victory last Saturday and the hard-earned draw before a large attendance at Healy Park for the Derry game have highlighted Tyrone’s inter-county hurling potential for a far wider audience not only within the county but also further afield.
There was a sizeable number of travelling fans in Castlebar for last weekend’s game and an expectation and hope that many of them and more others will lend their support for Sunday’s tie at Carrickmore.
“Tyrone hurling is in a good place at the moment and our aim is to ensure that it stays there,” added Kearns.
“We want to play in front of a good home crowd. At the start you want to stay in the Christy Ring Cup, but as the competition goes on we want to see as well how far this team can progress.
“At this level you cannot stand off players because if you do then you’ll be punished. I find our hurling has improved at this level and it’s only by playing in the Christy Ring that you’ll improve. It showed against Mayo and coming out with the win was the main target for us.”
Tyrone returned to training this week at Garvaghey and will be looking for more of the same from the likes of Conor and Sean Og Grogan, Fionn and Lorcan Devlin, Sean Duffin in the attack and the rest of the players who performed to such a high level in the eight-point victory over Mayo.
A day to remember was climaxed by the presentation of a specially signed jersey in memory of the late Damian Casey who died tragically in June 2022 and was such an integral part of the Red Hand hurlers for more than a decade.
The jersey was presented to the Tyrone management and players at the final whistle of last Saturday’s game in Castlebar.