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Derry and Armagh have scores to settle in Nicky Rackard decider

 

By Declan Bogue

It's not the first time it has happened, but there will be a distinctly northern twang to Saturday's Nicky Rackard Cup final in an all-Ulster clash of Derry and Armagh.

The Orchard County have featured in four of the last seven finals since the turn of the decade, and their captain, free-taker David Carville, has tasted defeat in the last two finals to Roscommon (2015) and Mayo (2016).

Not only that, but he was also part of the Middletown senior team who reached the All-Ireland Intermediate club final in 2012, falling to a late surge by Carlow outfit Mount Leinster Rangers.

Little wonder that he feels he has to put things right as he looks out onto the glorious surface of Croke Park from one of the corporate suites on level six.

"Roscommon scored that 21- yard free if you remember," he says, recalling how the Rossies rescued a game they had no right to with a goal drilled high into the roof of the net.

"We were up by two, and I think it was the last puck of the ball," he rues. "I think that set us back a year. And last year it was Mayo, we were up by three or four in the middle of the second half, and I don't know if it was fitness or whatever, but they tagged on a late couple of points.

"We are trying to change that a bit."

Even so, until they make amends, it continues to haunt most of the team, especially those that did not play on the successful 2012 team who beat Louth in the final.

"Definitely, we would take experience from it," explains Carville, a fleet-footed wing-forward and cousin of Cahal, his partner in that line of the field.

"I suppose the first one, the manner of the 21-yard free, was a sickener. We were probably big favourites going into that Roscommon game and we seemed to be in control only for that free.

"I will always remember that, more so than the Mayo game."

This year, Armagh played their league hurling a grade higher than Derry, in Division 2A. Coming up against the Carlows and Antrims of this world, they came straight back down again and struggle to make the jump from Rackard to Christy Ring quality hurling.

If there is a consolation for them, it is that Derry also struggled in the National League.

They recruited former player Collie McGurk as manager, and he drafted in former Slaughtneil coach Mickey Glover into his backroom team.

No doubt Glover was useful as they tempted Chrissy McKaigue and Brendan Rogers back into the hurling fold, the two men becoming one of a dying breed of county dual players.

They also benefitted from the return of the Hinphey brothers, Kevin and Liam.

Derry's captain, Oisin McCloskey of Banagher, is under no doubt about the quality that brings.

"The Slaughtneil men are a massive help," he said.

"They're the standout team in Derry, and possibly Ulster, these five years. Because of their success we haven't seen those players but we've got them back two months and it's been a serious boost to the panel."

Derry won one of the first editions of this trophy back in 2006, and as recently as 2015 they contested the Christy Ring final, losing to Kerry.

In the way that these things go, McCloskey already had put down a solid decade of hurling with Derry, and was taking a season out when they reached that Ring final.

Asked if he is surprised that Derry have fallen so far behind in the pecking order and McCloskey offers a strong rebuke in response.

"I'm saying it for years, and I'll probably still be saying it after this year, that if you got everyone out you don't know where you could end up."

He continues: "Before, players would say they'd pick one or the other, so hopefully we might be able to get everyone out. We're looking to push on."

And in doing so, they will look to Cian and Naoise Waldron, the two hurlers from club All-Ireland champions Cuala, who have connections to the Loughshore and have thrown their lot in with McGurk's men.

"They came off the back of winning a club All-Ireland so they were obviously coming off a high level with Cuala and came straight in," adds McCloskey.

"They're giving it their full commitment, they're driving up to training form Dublin every evening it's on.

"It's a serious commitment from them and they're two good quality players."

Belfast Telegraph

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