By Niall Gartland
TYRONE supporters were treated to a quite magnificent game of hurling in Sunday’s Christy Ring Cup opener against Derry, and Eire Óg clubman Dean Rafferty hopes that it’ll encourage at least some of the enthralled onlookers to attend their round two clash against Mayo in Castlebar this Saturday.
The match was played as the curtain-raiser to the Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final between Tyrone and Monaghan, so there was a bigger crowd than usual witnessing the county’s senior hurling team in action.
They certainly got their money’s worth as their game against Derry was a classic of the genre, Tyrone reeling in an eight-point deficit at half time to secure a draw at the final whistle of a helter-skelter contest that finished 2-20 apiece.
It was Tyrone’s first ever outing in the Christy Ring Cup competition and the manner of their performance against Derry suggests that it could be a fruitful campaign for Michael McShane’s side.
Next in the firing line is Mayo, who made it all the way to last year’s final before losing to Kildare, and Tyrone hurler Rafferty is anticipating another hard-fought battle.
“There’s not a massive amount between the teams in the Christy Ring. We were promoted from Division 3A last year whereas Mayo were relegated from 2B, but they bounced back by reaching the Christy Ring final.
“It should be a good game and it would be absolutely lethal to get a bit of a crowd down to Castlebar. Having that support seriously helps us, it definitely gave us a bit of oxygen when we really needed it against Derry.”
The Red Hands trailed by eight points against Ulster heavyweights Derry at half-time and it looked like the floodgates were about to open. But they dug deep in a thoroughly entertaining second half to muster a draw on their first day out. The hope is that it lays the platform for the rest of their campaign.
Rafferty said: “We were eight points down playing into a stiff breeze.
“We regrouped, said we’d stick the process and were able to sort ourselves out. We got a really good start to the second half and that kick-started our efforts. The crowd got behind us and that helped us dig out a draw. It’s great to get a point on the board and we’ll look forward now to playing Mayo as well.”
The Red Hands have made massive strides in recent seasons, but all the tactics and preparation in the world doesn’t substitute for character. The Tyrone hurlers showed they certainly aren’t lacking in that respect when they came roaring back into contention in the second half.
“Without a doubt, we showed serious fight in the second half and as I said the crowd seriously helped us on. It looked like Derry were going to edge it but Sean Duffin got a score at the very end, I felt the very least we deserved was a draw so we’ll take it.”
As well as showing character in spades, Tyrone also played some really slick hurling and some of their late scores from unforgiving angles and distances were utterly sublime.
“Some of the scores were top class,” said Rafferty.
“If it was a Division One game, you’d have seen them on the Sunday Game.
“The lads are oozing confidence at the minute, you saw Sean Duffin’s points for example, he’s a top, top player.”