Hurling & Camogie

Little on stepping into the shoes of his icon as Tyrone hurlers start League campaign with a win

Mickey Little scored 0-11 from frees in Tyrone's NHL Division 2B win over London Picture: Oliver McVeigh
Mickey Little scored 0-11 from frees in Tyrone's NHL Division 2B win over London Picture: Oliver McVeigh Mickey Little scored 0-11 from frees in Tyrone's NHL Division 2B win over London Picture: Oliver McVeigh

A sombre and reflective occasion heralded a new chapter in the evolving story of Tyrone hurling as life after the great Damian Casey became a reality.

A first game in over a decade without their star forward was turned into a celebration of his legacy in a gripping NHL Division 2B clash with London.

It was an emotion-charged occasion for his team-mates, with added pressure weighted upon the young shoulders of the young man tasked with taking over the free-taking duties of one of the game’s most renowned finishers.

Twenty-year-old Mickey Little displayed a nerve of steel to combine a crisp striking style with clinical accuracy, firing over 11 points, including two crucial late frees that sealed a narrow 1-26 to 3-18 victory for the newly promoted Red Hands.

“It’s obviously tough. Damien wouldn’t have missed a shot. But I just had to trust the process, if you miss one, just hit another one and you’ll score,” said Little.

“I did miss a few, but thankfully I scored the last couple. There were a few in the first half that should have been over the bar.

“There’s a few free-takers in the team, it could have been Sean Duffin, or Aidy Kelly, but unfortunately he’s injured. Anyone who steps up, you have to back them. I would have backed them and I’m sure they backed me.”

Stepping into the shoes of his boyhood idol and club-mate wasn’t easy, but on his home ground at Eoghan Ruadh Dungannon, Little found it easy to get his eye in.

“It helped that the game was at my own club. I know the pitch and I know the distances. At a different pitch it might have been a different story.

But I was happy to step up and hit them.”

The crowd was swelled by many whose attendance represented a desire to support the Red Hand hurling community and Damian’s family, who were present, his father Sean wearing the famous Number 14 Tyrone shirt underneath a steward’s bib.

For the players, it was a case of finding the mental strength to shift the focus to the serious business of battling for League points.

“Before the game and after the game we were feeling it, but we had to go out and play hurling,” said Little, who has returned to the squad after deciding to opt out last year due to work and football commitments with neighbouring club Donaghmore.

London arrived with a team stacked with players from all the hurling strongholds of their homeland, and at key stages of a thrilling contest looked like they were on course for an opening day victory.

Two points behind with a couple of minutes to play, Tyrone pulled back from the brink, and late scores from Conor Grogan and Little turned the game in their favour.

“We knew London was going to be a tough test, in a new division, but we just made sure we trusted the process, we had a plan and we wanted to stick to it, even when we were four or five points down. We knew we would get there in the end,” Little said.

“We knew they were going to be a good team, and the games will be tougher in this division.

“This team earned its place in this division. There’s talent in Tyrone, and we have a strong squad this year.”