Hurling & Camogie

Provincial rivalry is helping Tyrone in Allianz Hurling League campaign

The Red Hands share second spot in Division 2B with Donegal behind leaders Derry

Oran McKee will be a vital player for Éire Og in their Tyrone Senior Hurling Championship final against Eoghan Ruadh
Oran McKee Oran McKee says facing Ulster sides has been a motivation for Tyrone in this campaign so far

AN Ulster charge to the top of the Division 2B table paints an encouraging picture of the healthy state of hurling in the province, according to Tyrone captain Oran McKee.

Derry lead the way, followed by Donegal and the Red Hands, who are tied in second place along with Roscommon going into the fourth round of games.

Tyrone have played both of their northern neighbours, losing to Derry and drawing with Donegal, and McKee believes all three counties are benefitting from the local rivalry.

“It’s good to see Ulster hurling up there, and this rivalry between the Ulster counties definitely brings us on,” he said.

“We strive to play against the likes of Donegal and Derry, and it definitely brings us all on.”

Tyrone cross the Irish Sea this weekend looking to beef up their challenge with a win over London, who sit just a point behind in the league table.

“Every game is difficult in this division. We just about squeezed over the line against London last year, so we know how difficult that’s going to be. We have to get prepared for it.”

The departure of a number of members of last year’s squad left new manager Stephen McGarry with a rebuilding project to undertake, but the Ballycastle man has unearthed some exciting fresh talent.

“We have lost a good few players, but we have definitely gained some great players as well,” said McKee.

“We’re just trying to perform as best we can with the players that we have, and I think we have shown that we can compete at this level.”

A battling mentality was required in their last outing, when they needed a late flourish to salvage a draw from their clash with Donegal.

And the skipper is delighted by the spirit shown by the players in chasing the game right to the end.

“It’s something that we always try and do, we try and play for 70 minutes.

“We didn’t do it (against Donegal), but thankfully we fought to the end, and managed to get something out of the game.”

A tight encounter at O’Neills Healy Park followed a familiar pattern set by the regular meetings of the counties in recent seasons.

“It’s one of those games, us and Donegal. Over the last three years, there’s always been just a couple of points here or there in it, and we knew it was going to be like that. We were just glad to get something out of the game.”

It was ace finisher Aidy Kelly who stepped up to drill a stoppage-time ‘65 between the posts, bringing his tally to 10 and earning a point for his side.

“We have lost a lot of the older players, and Aidy is a great example there at training and matches, it’s great to have him.”

But scores came from many other areas of the field in the 1-17 to 0-20 draw, with corner backs McKee, with a point, and Seamus Sweeney, who scored the game’s only goal, hitting the target.

“I don’t know if Stevie would be too happy with us going up that end of the field, but we ended up there and thankfully it went over, but they don’t always go over.”