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Gaffney can point way to Orchard County delight

Shooting star: Dean Gaffney will be out to inspire Armagh
Shooting star: Dean Gaffney will be out to inspire Armagh
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Dean Gaffney has certainly been keeping the statisticians busy in Armagh's full-blooded charge into today's Nicky Rackard Cup final at Croke Park (4pm).

The Middletown clubman has been scoring for fun as the Orchard County maintained their momentum in booking their place against Sligo in what manager Padraig O'Connor regards as "a major test".

Armagh were pushed to the limit by a determined Tyrone outfit before coming out on top in a thrilling semi-final by 2-19 to 1-20, and O'Connor believes his team could experience an even more difficult mission today.

"The fact that Sligo beat a good Warwickshire side in the semi-final shows that they are made of stern stuff, and they, like ourselves, will be keen to impress at Croke Park," says O'Connor.

"We have been fairly consistent so far but we know that we need to raise our game if we are to come home with the trophy.

"We have the height of respect for Sligo, they will be a major test for us. Both teams will feel they have a big point to make and there is no better place to make a statement than at Croke Park."

While Gaffney has been plundering the lion's share of scores for Armagh, O'Connor's team is by no means a one-man show.

Eoin McGuinness, Danny Magee and Dylan McKenna are other players who have been scoring regularly, albeit in supporting roles to the ever-accurate Gaffney, while vastly experienced duo Stephen Renaghan and Ciaran Clifford help to hold the fort at the back.

Both have given admirable service in the Armagh colours, and should their team succeed today, then they will have considerable cause for celebration having endured their share of disappointments in the past.

Armagh, though, have been well warned of the threat that Sligo will carry. In their 2-21 to 2-17 semi-final win over Warwickshire, Keith Raymond scored 0-9, while the O'Kelly-Lynch pair, Tom and Gerard, collected 1-6 between them.

Sligo manager Daithi Hand is in no doubt that the "special bond" which exists within his squad has carried them this far.

"We're all in this together as a squad. There is a special bond uniting the guys, and the players on the bench know for sure that they are as important as the players who are out on the field," says Hand.

"Obviously everyone is keen to start today but you can only field fifteen after all. Still, those who start and those who come on from the bench can help to bring hurling in Sligo on by winning this game.

"It's not every day you get the chance to perform in a shop window like Croke Park."

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