Hurling & Camogie

Michael McShane expects emotional evening in Dungannon for Tyrone hurlers

The late Damian Casey
The late Damian Casey

THE Tyrone hurlers are facing into a hugely "emotional evening" as they prepare to play their first competitive match without the late Damian Casey on Saturday night in Dungannon.

The GAA community was plunged into mourning following the death of the highly decorated hurler while on holiday last summer, who was a totemic presence for the Red Hands for over a decade.

As a mark of respect, Tyrone’s NHL Division 2B opener with London on Saturday night will be played at Casey’s home pitch - Eoghan Ruadh, Dungannon.

Described as a “fabulous hurler” and a man of “humility”, Red Hand boss Michael McShane admitted he considered stepping down from the role after two years in charge.

Tyrone won NHL promotion and went on to claim the Nickey Rackard Cup at Croke Park last May, inspired by the inimitable Casey. The following month, Casey died suddenly while holidaying in Spain.

“To be honest, I was going to step aside last year because of the heavy schedule,” said McShane, who also manages Slaughtneil hurlers.

“It’s a four-hour round trip to Garvaghey and I’ve three young kids at home.”

But, ultimately, McShane felt leaving Tyrone at this juncture wouldn’t have been the right thing to do and agreed to remain at the helm for a third consecutive year while also entering his ninth at Slaughtneil.

“We realised this thing could go one of two ways: you could get really good buy in from the players, or the heart will be ripped out of them because Damian was no longer there. Thankfully, we've had great buy in.”

Last season, Tyrone carried 23 players whereas this year McShane has 32 players at his disposal.

“Saturday will be an emotional night for everybody involved but we’ve talked to the players about this and the important thing is playing the game and winning the game,” said Ballycastle native McShane.

“Damian was the baton carrier for 10 or 12 years. He never missed a game. This will be the first competitive game the Tyrone hurlers will play in 11 years without Damian Casey.”