By Alan Rodgers
A CRUNCH clash awaits the Tyrone hurlers this weekend as they prepare for what amounts to a critical milestone against Meath in their Christy Ring campaign – a campaign that has produced mixed fortunes so far.
It’s a fourth game for the Red Hands in the competition. Two weeks ago they lost narrowly at the very end to Sligo, but will look more to their impressive win over Mayo in round two, after drawing with Derry in the opener, as a true indication of their real form.
Now, Navan is the venue for this crucial meeting. In early March, the Royals won comprehensively in Omagh in the league, but this is a new game and there’s no doubting the determination of Tyrone to upset the odds as they bid to keep alive their chances of reaching the final.
“This is as big a game as the last one and I suppose all the matches in this competition are very important. But we can’t afford to lose against Meath, this is one that has to be won because there is no margin for error,” said Tyrone manager Michael McShane.
“We have to ensure that a victory is secured to give us the chance of going into the last weekend with the opportunity to reach the final. Equally, a win will mean that we’re not dragged into a relegation battle because the nature of the Christy Ring is that in the last weekend you could have a chance of getting to the final or facing the drop back to the Nickey Rackard.
“It’s so tight from top to bottom and while we’re looking to get to the final. More importantly, we have to try and win on Saturday to ensure that relegation doesn’t come into play. All we can do is go down to Navan and put everything we have into this match.”
Tyrone’s victory over Mayo last month highlighted their potential against opponents who reached the final last year. But the result against Sligo a fortnight showed us that improvements are also needed.
There was a feeling that perhaps an air of slight complacency drifted into the Tyrone camp following their brilliant win ahead of that Sligo match.
That game at Carrickmore saw Tyrone struggle for long periods, and although they came close to snatching a draw, their hopes were dashed with virtually the final puck of the match.
Now there will be a fresh impetus for the players and management as they bid to make their mark on this occasion.
“I think complacency played a big part in our performance against Sligo,” McShane added.
“We had a poor performance and got beaten.
“But that complacency shouldn’t be there in this game because we’re playing Meath who are possibly would have been everyone’s favourites for this competition from the beginning.
“But there have been a lot of strange results in the Christy Ring so far, with Meath going to London and losing, I suppose not many would have expected us to win in Mayo and then Sligo coming up and beating us.
“It’s possible that if you perform on the day that anything will go and that’s what we’ll be hoping happens on Saturday.
“Our training has been going well in the two weeks since the Sligo game. We got the players back in last week, got the heads down again and have learnt the lessons that needed to be learned from that defeat.
“The lads have been working very hard. They were all very disappointed with that result and knew that they’d let themselves down with the performance. Now it’s time to make up for that.
“The room for any error is gone now and we need to make sure that we’re on the money. Meath will be hot favourites, but what happened in our league game against them is in the past, this is summer hurling and it’s a different ball game now.
“Our lads are in a lot better shape, and we won’t be looking back on that game. Hopefully that will be enough.”