NHL Previews: Red Hand hurlers go to Longford


Longford v Tyrone

Saturday, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 2pm

THE big news in Tyrone hurling circles last weekend was the surprise addition of former Antrim player CJ McGourty to their starting team for the visit of Monaghan.

The St Gall’s clubman, who completed his inter-county transfer in January, lined out at centre half-forward and scored a point in the hard-fought 1-25 to 2-13 win.

Not for the first time, it was Damian Casey’s scoring prowess that got Tyrone over the line as he amassed an amazing 1-16 tally. It’s a surprise when the Dungannon man dips below double figures in a game, but that is still a superb return and included four points from play.

Midfielder Bryan McGurk was also in inspired form and new manager Michael McShane will have been happy with their finishing power. Tyrone trailed at the first water-break, half time and the second water-break – but they would go on to win by nine points. They hit 1-7 without reply to close out the game.

Longford are preparing to face Ulster opposition for the second week in-a-row and they’ll be hoping to do better than they did against Armagh in round one.

The Leinster side gave up 2-21 in all and were second best all over the pitch. The experienced Joe O’Brien was the pick of the bunch for the visitors and the captain contributed nine of their 16 points on the day. Like Tyrone’s Casey, Steven Creaven also showed that he can land frees from the very limit of the scoring zone.

Derek Frehill is back in charge for another year, but that is only really because Covid-19 put paid to his plans for one more normal season at the helm.

This is by no means an easy task, and it would be a surprise if either team were comfortable. The Red Hands to edge it.

Verdict: Tyrone


Sligo v Armagh

Saturday, Markievicz Park, 2pm

THE GAA’s Team of the Week is usually the preserve of the top teams in the country, but Armagh’s Fionntán Donnelly could not have been denied a place following his exemplary display against Longford.

The Keady youngster contributed 11 points in all, with five coming from play in the 2-21 to 0-16 win.

That secured a very solid start for Padraig O’Connor’s side, and they looked tuned in from the start as the reliable Eoin McGuinness pointed in the opening seconds. Danny Magee and Steven Keenan grabbed their goals at the Athletic Grounds.

One of the most interesting facts from the day was that the teamsheet included only eight players from the big two, Keady and Middletown.

Usually those two clubs dominate, so it’s becoming clear that there is real talent developing across the county. Indeed, Derrynoose’s Aaron Fox is captaining the side and he was excellent last week as he popped up for two scores from the back.

This is Sligo’s first outing as they had a bye week last Sunday. The Yeats county were Division 3B champions in 2020 while Armagh will be particularly wary of their threat having suffered a surprise Nickey Rackard final loss to them in 2019.

Manager Padraig Mannion will be without the injured Kevin Gilmartin but he is hopeful that a few other players with niggles should be okay.

Armagh should make it two wins from two, although they should be tested a bit more than they were against Longford.

Verdict: Armagh


Fermanagh v Leitrim

Sunday, Brewster Park, 2pm

THE Two games in Division 3B last weekend produced a draw and a one-point win – and we can expect that trend to continue

Fermanagh really should have made it two wins in the bottom tier, but they threw away a four-point lead late on away to Cavan.

The Ulster neighbours have had some real battles over the last couple of seasons, and this was one of the most entertaining of the lot as the draw produced a combined  3-35.

The Erne county had the upper hand for 65 minutes of the contest. A Barney McAuley penalty gave them a 1-9 to 0-8 half-time lead, and Mark Slevin’s early second-half goal pushed them even further ahead.

The loss of JP McGarry to a second yellow card gave Cavan a route back into the game though and although a couple of Sean Corrigan frees had appeared to kill off that threat, the Breffni side finished strongly to earn a share of the spoils.

Leitrim likewise were hit with a late sting in the tail as they went down by two points to Louth on home soil. The sides were level late into additional time, but Leitrim were the architects of their own downfall.

The Connacht side had won a free – and a chance at a winner – but Paul Lenihan lost his discipline and was red-carded after it was awarded.

The free was cancelled and the ball thrown in instead and, with a one-man advantage, Louth hit two points in the final minute to win the game.

Verdict: Fermanagh



Sunday, Darver, 2pm

BRIAN Fitzgerald was the hero for Cavan last week as he hit a superb 13 points, including the last four of the game, to earn a draw with Fermanagh. It ensures a decent start for the Breffni county, who are now in their fourth season of National Hurling League action following their return from a period of absence.

Ollie Bellew’s side have already had one decent performance on the road this year, a challenge match win over Tyrone, and he will hope for more away day joy in Darver.

It’s not an easy place to go, though. Paul McCormack is enjoying a good start to his intercounty managerial career and they were very unfortunate to be relegated last season.

Their five defeats included a one-point loss to Armagh, a two-point defeat by Donegal and five-point losses against Longford and Tyrone. Anyone at the latter of those would know that they were better than the Red Hands for long stretches of the contest. They did respond by winning the Lory Meagher Cup and they should have too much for an improving Cavan.

Verdict: Louth


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