By Alan Rodgers
MAKE or break time is fast approaching in Division 2B of the National Hurling League as Tyrone prepare for another hugely important clash against Sligo away this weekend.
One win from two has boosted the confidence of the Red Hands. They, of course, recorded a massive victory over London at the start of this month, before losing narrowly to Wicklow at Aughrim last time out.
Now, as the Division enters a critical stage, both the players and management are all too aware of what’s at stake. Win and a place in the promotion shake-up is very much within reach, while a defeat would leave them under pressure to avoid the relegation zone.
A similar situation awaits Sligo, who enter this weekend’s clash still seeking a first victory. They defeated Tyrone when the sides last met in the league in 2020, and the Red Hand manager, Michael McShane, is under no illusions about what’s being demanded from the players on this occasion.
“Every game is a big one at this stage of the season. We made a great start to the season and then had a disappointing result losing to Wicklow in injury time. We’ve had a couple of weeks to work very hard on the training pitch now to get ready for this one,” he said.
“Sligo have lost their opening two games in the league and will no doubt be targeting a victory here. So the players and ourselves in the management are under no illusions about what we will face down there against a team that is desperate for two points.
“They’ll be fired up and looking at Tyrone at home as a winnable match. But our win over London was fabulous and that gave us great confidence going in against Wicklow. We were probably a bit down the week after because we had that London tie in Dungannon in our sights for seven or eight weeks, it was our first following the death of Damian Casey and the energy levels were a bit lower.
“We didn’t play to the same level, but the players work hard and were right in contention near the finish. But we came away knowing that if we had played better then we’d have won the game and that shows we’re full value for being up and this Sunday is another chance to prove that we’re worthy of our place there.”
Tyrone’s preparations for this weekend’s tie have been affected by injuries to three key players –Dermot Begley, Sean Og Gorgan and Aidan Kelly of Carrickmore, Éire Óg and Dungannon.
With Sligo having lost their two games, Donegal also still very much in the hunt and Meath leading the way on top, it’s very much a case of everything being still to play for in the Division.
“Meath and Donegal played their third round tie last weekend and a lot of teams, including ourselves, are still settling down in the division,” he added.
“We have Sean Óg, Aidie and Dermie all missing and they’re three stalwarts of the team. There’s a few players who have come in and I suppose every team is in the same boat.
“I’d say the next two rounds will start to sort things out. If we can beat Sligo, then Sligo will find it difficult. You can very quickly go from a relegation battle to potentially going into a league semi-final or final.
“You don’t want to be losing any games from here on and hopefully we can go down and if we play the way that we are capable of and with the same intensity as against London I think we’ll come out with a victory.”