Mattie Lennon: Tyrone hurling young guns ready for Nicky Rackard showdown
Tyrone manager Mattie Lennon believes his young team is ready for the hefty challenges that lie ahead in the Nicky Rackard Cup.
The Red Hand hurlers are in transition following the departure of a number of experienced players, and their biggest test to date sees them take on Mayo in Sunday's opener at Healy Park.
“We have had lads move on due to work commitments and family commitments, that's what happens. The lads who have come in have played really well. They have trained well and they have integrated well,” said Lennon.
“But the pitches are firming up now, the ball is moving faster but you expect it and we have been preparing for that in training as much as we could.”
Mayo have been playing at a higher level than Tyrone, and are fancied to take both point from their visit to Omagh.
“It is a big test against Mayo. They have been playing two divisions ahead of us in Division 2A, and stayed there which is an achievement in its own right. “
But Tyrone have a key asset in Damien Casey, one of the most talented attackers in the game.
Casey has been in prolific form once again this season, posting big tallies throughout the NHL Division 3A campaign.
Lennon insisted, however, that his team is not overly reliant on the Dungannon Eoghan Ruadh man.
“If any county had Damien Casey he would be a very important man for them. I don't think we are over-reliant on him, some of the other forwards have come in and stepped up.
“If you look at our scoring spread this year, there has been a lot of other forwards scoring from play – Bryan McGurk, Matthew Mulgrew, Tiarnan Morgan. These guys have stepped up and are scoring as well.
“In most of our matches in the National League Damien hasn't done all the scoring. There has been four or five other players who have scored as well.
“This year especially we have had more players step up though Damian obviously is still an integral part of our team. He is a class act and he would get his place on any other team in Ireland he is that good.
“One of the keys this year has been trying to bring more players into it to help with the scoring and that has happened. The focus isn't totally on Damian.We are playing in such a way that we are allowing that to happen.
“The lads are aware of that too. We are telling them that we need other people to step up and be part and parcel of it.”
Sunday's game is the curtain-raiser to the Ulster SFC clash of Tyrone and Derry, giving the hurlers an opportunity to savour the atmosphere of a big sporting occasion.
“We have played a couple of games this year before the footballers and anytime we have tended to lift our game and it has helped us. Hopefully next Sunday it will be the same against Mayo even though Mayo are going in as strong favourites and we are underdogs.
“But it will be a great help if we have a crowd there and the lads get into it and we can keep in touch with Mayo which is something we are capable of doing.
“We have the hurlers to compete with them. We just have to go out and play with that bit of freedom and confidence and belief in our own ability.
“I think the way we finished the National League has given us that belief to think we are good enough to compete with Mayo. We played them in a challenge game last year down in Sligo and we competed with them fairly well so I don't think we will be overawed by them in any shape or form.”
With two teams from the group set to go through to the Nicky Rackard Cup semi-finals, manager Lennon is hopeful that his side can progress in a competition they won in 2014.
“Every team prepares for the Championship and we have Mayo first and then Sligo and Louth to come. There is two come out of the group so we'd be hoping to be in the top two and get