Seldom has the lure of hurling silverware been as enticing from an Ulster perspective as it is this week-end.
There will be a virtual parade of sides from the province clamouring for honours at Croke Park with Tyrone and Mayo lighting the fuse in the Nickey Rackard Cup final today (1.00) before Fermanagh and Cavan take centre stage in the Lory Meagher Cup decider (6.30) with Derry and Offaly providing the finale tomorrow (1.00) when they meet in the Christy Ring Cup shoot-out.
Tyrone’s joust with Mayo will present them with rather more difficulties than they have encountered to date given the potency of Keith Higgins, Brian Morley, Adrian Phillips and Cathal Freeman in particular.
Yet the Red Hands can look to the imposing finishing skills of skipper Damian Casey, Cian Ferguson, Conor Grugan, Lorcan Devlin and former Antrim ace C J McGourty in their quest for a slice of All-Ireland glory with manager Michael McShane having structured a strategy that could make its own demands on Mayo.
“Obviously you want to be playing at Croke Park with a trophy on offer. This is what it is all about at the end of the day. And with our county engaged in the Ulster football final immediately after our own match this provides Tyrone fans with a double incentive to exercise their lungs,” smiles Red Hands captain Casey. “It’s great to see four Ulster sides in the frame for cup glory.”.
If Casey’s inspirational scoring feats have been the icing on the cake for Tyrone to date, the man himself is adamant that it will take “a supreme team effort” if success is to be attained today.
"This is a big opportunity for us to strike a blow for Tyrone pride. We do not often get the chance to play in Croke Park and now that we are there we really want to do ourselves justice,” insists Casey. “It will take a supreme team effort but it’s where we want to be, battling for a major trophy.”
Tyrone’s fervour and commitment will be matched by that of Fermanagh and Cavan in their Lory Meagher clash and although these sides may not be noted hurling luminaries they will nonetheless bring their own earthy virtues into play.
The influence of Sean Quigley, Tom Keenan, Kevin McGarry, John Duffy, Ryan Bogue, and Barney McAuley can benefit the Erne outfit with manager Joe Baldwin having realigned his side with a measure of success thus far.
But Cavan will certainly not be cast in the role of country cousins, not with Brian Fitzgerald, Diarmaid Carney and Cillian Sheanan currently firing on all cylinders up front.
It will be the turn of Derry to do their bit for Ulster pride tomorrow when they cross swords with Offaly in the Christy Ring Cup final (1.00) with Cormac O’Doherty, Gerald Bradley, Sé McGuigan and Odhran McKeever in the vanguard of their pursuit of success.
Skipper O’Doherty has certainly been leading by splendid example thus far but tomorrow his polished finishing skills will be needed more than ever if his team are to get the measure of an Offaly outfit that has been scoring for fun of late.
Derry manager Dominic McKinley, who gave superb service to Antrim both as a player and management team member, is now hoping that the Oak Leaf side which he has nurtured this term can come good at Headquarters.
"We know that Offaly will be very difficult opponents. They have been consistent lately and their manager Michael Fennelly will have them well fired up. But we must focus on our own game and maintain our concentration,” states McKinley. “It’s only by doing this can we hope to get a result.”