Hurling and camogie

Tyrone and Armagh clash for Division 3A National Hurling League title

Damien Casey has scored 2-47 in five games for Tyrone this season
Andy Watters

Allianz Hurling League 3A final: Tyrone v Armagh (today, Owenbeg, 2.30pm)

WINNING promotion and a League title in just his third game in charge would be a terrific start to Orchard County life for Terence McNaughton but his Armagh side will have to get past bitter rivals Tyrone if they are to deliver it this afternoon.

The Owenbeg clash is McNaughton’s first experience of the age-old derby and the Cushendall native – who admits he is still getting to grips with the names of his players - will know much more about them all by the end of it.

McNaughton wasn’t on the line when Armagh took on Tyrone in Division 3A back in February. The Red Hands have a former Antrim star of their own and it was CJ McGourty – a dual player for his native county and an All-Ireland club football championship winner with St Gall’s - who did the damage with a second half goal that swung the game the Tyrone’s way and, in the end, there were 10 points between the teams.

Belfast native McGourty was a regular contributor throughout a League campaign in which Tyrone finished unbeaten with four wins on-the-trot after a draw against Roscommon in their opener. However, the leader of the attack has been Damien Casey who is averaging almost 11 points a match (2-47 in five games) and his scores enable his county to top the table on nine points.

Roscommon came in second thanks to their one-point win over Armagh at The Athletic Grounds. Padraig O’Connor stepped down as Orchard County manager in the wake of that defeat and McNaughton was brought in as an interim boss although that could change if both parties agree to a more permanent arrangement at the end of the season.

Ruairi McGrattan had been part of O’Connor’s management team and he stayed on and McNaughton brought in Derrynoose native and former Armagh player, captain and manager Mattie Lennon (who also had a spell as Tyrone manager) when he took over the reins for the trip to Warwickshire.

The new management team’s first game yielded a 15-point win and Armagh followed that up with a performance-of-the-season victory over Roscommon at Dr Hyde Park last weekend to progress to this afternoon’s final. Shea Harvey got the goal in a 1-22 to 0-20 win and Fionntan Donnelly weighed in with a dozen points.

The League final is of course the precursor to the Nickey Rackard Cup duel between these counties on April 23. The Red Hands won last year’s clash by two points to progress to the semi-finals of the competition. Armagh recovered to make the last four but lost to Mayo who also accounted for Tyrone in the decider.

McNaughton is a firm believer that for a team to develop, playing hurling at as high a level as possible in the League is essential and has said he would take promotion over a Nickey Rackard Cup victory.

And, since only the winners go up, the same has to be the case for Tyrone. The Red Hands were the best team in Division 3A throughout the season but Armagh’s win in Roscommon indicates that McNaughton’s influence could inspire them to find form right when it really matters.

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Hurling and camogie