Armagh and Tyrone fight it out for Croke Park spot
Nicky Rackard Cup semi-final: Armagh v Tyrone (today, Inniskeen, 1pm)
ULSTER involvement in the Nicky Rackard Cup final is assured with Armagh and Tyrone set to go head to head in pursuit of that visit to Croke Park, writes Francis Mooney
They meet today in a derby semi-final at Inniskeen, a game upon which the season of both counties rests.
Tyrone came out on top when the sides met in the League, but it was Armagh who eventually progressed to the Division 3A final where they subsequently lost out to Roscommon.
That was at Healy Park, and with a neutral venue set to host this crucial eliminator, Orchard manager Padraig O'Connor is calling on his players to move up a gear.
“We have to be better than we were that day,” he said of that 3-16 to 1-16 loss back in March.
“We have gotten to know their strengths and weaknesses and we'll have to stop them and play to the best of our ability as well. We'll have to set up well.
“This will be the third time we have played them this year, and the players obviously know each other very well.”
Ace attacker Damian Casey will carry Tyrone hopes with the magic of his stick-work, while Dean Gaffney's eye for the posts has been instrumental in taking Armagh to the last four.
“We dropped one point but Warwickshire is a difficult place to go,” O'Connor continued.
“Our plan from the beginning of the year was to get out of the group and see how competitive we could be at semi-final level.
“We're there now and we'll know more about ourselves on Saturday. We're young, inexperienced, but the lads have gathered experience as the season has gone on, and we'll be ready for the battle.
“There's a big prize on offer. Tyrone have won it since we have won it, and they will have more players that have actually won a final at Croke Park.”
Tyrone manager and Armagh native Mattie Lennon said his players must put the League encounter out of their heads.
“It's a completely different game. That league game will count for nothing,” he insisted.
“Armagh came here in the National League and we beat them, but they'll be well prepared. They did well in the other group, they topped it and went through it unbeaten.
“It's going to be no easy game. Armagh is a strong side, they have played a lot of Division Two hurling over the last number of years and they have a lot of experienced players.
“But it's Championship hurling, we are where we want to be, we're in a semi-final, and it's good to be there.”