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Ulster quartet reach the semi-finals

 

Eoghan Sands
Eoghan Sands
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Ulster hurling received quite a shot in the arm over the weekend with four counties - Down, Derry, Armagh and Tyrone - booking their places in the semi-finals of two important All-Ireland Championship tiers.

Down cantered through to the last-four of the Christy Ring Cup, in which they will now meet Rosscommon, by beating Donegal by 7-22 to 2-15, while Derry also reached the penultimate stage of the same competition on score difference even though they lost to Wicklow by 1-16 to 0-16. Their opponents in the last-four will be Meath.

And in the Nicky Rackard Cup, Armagh and Tyrone provided further evidence that the trophy could yet find a home north of the border.

The Orchard County got the better of Longford by 0-24 to 0-14 while the Red Hands overcame Louth by 2-21 to 1-17.

Down's runaway win over a weakened Donegal side was highlighted by Eoghan Sands and Daithi Sands each landing a hat-trick of goals while Ronan Blair pocketed the team's other goal from a penalty.

Down scored a fine victory away to Wicklow in their last outing and now look set to make a bold bid to land the trophy.

Their scoring rate against Donegal has certainly provided a welcome raft of encouragement for manager Ronan Sheehan.

"I think that we have been getting better with each outing and obviously it's good for us to be in the semi-final. The ante will be upped but we are ready for the challenge," insisted Sheehan.

While Derry were disappointed to lose to Wicklow, they will go into their semi-final in the knowledge that in Cormac O'Doherty, Se McGuigan and Alan Grant they have forwards who are capable of helping them to make further progress.

It was Wicklow's Enda O'Donoghue who inflicted most damage on the Oak Leaf side by helping himself to 1-7.

In the Nicky Rackard Cup, Tyrone and Armagh have now been drawn against each other in the semi-finals and this will make for an appetising tie.

Tyrone were ahead by 1-12 to 0-10 at half-time against Louth before maintaining their scoring surge in the second half to win by 2-21 to 1-17.

The meeting of the Red Hands and the Orchard County will have added significance for Mattie Lennon, the man who has revitalised Tyrone's fortunes.

Lennon hurled with distinction for his native Armagh before throwing in his lot with the 'enemy' from across the Blackwater Bridge.

In Armagh's 0-24 to 0-14 win over Longford, Dean Gaffney, Danny Magee and goalkeeper Simon Doherty landed the lion's share of their scores.

Indeed, Gaffney in particular proved the ace in the Orchard County pack by landing 11points in all.

Manager Padraig O'Connor has patiently rebuilt his side and their semi-final outing against Tyrone will be a big test.

"We have been making steady progress and some players who have come into the side have been doing well," said O'Connor.

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