Hurling & Camogie

Tyrone hurlers can rise to challenge of Christy Ring Cup debut: Michael McShane

Tyrone's Bryan McGurk (left) in action against Armagh's Ciaran Clifford.
Tyrone's Bryan McGurk (left) in action against Armagh's Ciaran Clifford.

Tyrone hurling reaches a new high this weekend with a first appearance in the Christy Ring Cup, and manager Michael McShane believes his side can rise to the challenge.

The Red Hands take on Derry in their opening tie at O'Neills Healy Park on Sunday, a rare derby clash of the north-west neighbours.

The Oak Leafers will be chasing a lift following their relegation from Division 2A of the NHL, while Tyrone are seeking to build on their first season in Division 2B.

"It's a challenge, it's a new level against a lot of very, very good teams, but this is a great challenge of how Tyrone can live at this level," said McShane.

After winning Division 3A and the Nickey Rackard Cup last season, Tyrone moved up a grade in both League and Championship, and McShane was pleased with his side's performances in Division 2B.

"The primary objective in the League this year was to stay in Division 2B, to stay at that level and try and build upon the experience we got in it.

"We won two games, against London and Sligo, and we lost by a point to Donegal, which could have got us to a semi-final, and Donegal went on to a final.

"So there was very little between the teams, with Meath maybe being that wee bit stronger than everybody else.

"We proved that we can live with that level and are worthy of our place there, and now we're going into the Championship, and the Christy Ring Championship is going to be even tougher."

Having managed Slaughtneil for the past eight years, Ballycastle man McShane is familiar with the hurling scene in Derry, and with many of the players his Tyrone side will oppose in Omagh.

"Albeit that Derry got relegated from Division 2A, but they were very close in a few of the games, they put good performances.

"My experience of working in Derry over the last eight years with Slaughtneil lends me to know their players very well, and I know the quality that we're going up against.

"It's a step up from anything that we have played at yet, it's a massive challenge to take on Derry, but one we're looking forward to.

"It's the curtain-raiser before the Tyrone-Monaghan Football Championship game, and a chance for the lads to go out and express themselves against really good opposition and test themselves and see where they're at.

"I have a fair insight into the Derry team, but that will not really count for much when we get out there."

Tyrone will also face Mayo, Sligo, Meath and London in the series, and their manager feels they should fear no opponent.

"There's no team we don't feel we can beat. Mayo played in the League below us and didn't get promoted, but their first few League games they were out with a weakened squad and they didn't get enough points.

"I believe Mayo will be as strong a team as there is when they have got all players available to them.

"The last couple of League games, they racked up big scores when they had everybody back.

"We played London this year and had a really titanic battle with them, and came out on top by two points, but it was a very, very tough game.

"Meath gave us a bit of a lesson at Healy Park, but it was a day when we were really off it and were very disappointed with our own performance, so we have something to prove there.

"Sligo, we beat them in the League, and they will be very determined to get one over on us.

"So every game is going to be a difficult game, every game is going to be a massive challenge.

"But that's what you train through the winter for, and we're coming into better weather, the pitches should harden up a bit, the games should get a wee bit faster, and it's an exciting time for Tyrone, to be playing in these type of games."