Nicky Rackard Cup glory could rest on fine margins for Armagh
By Michael Devlin
It’s often the finest of margins, in crucial moments, which decide the fate of a season.
A spurned free here, the shaving of a goalpost there, these are things that decide between the winning and losing of a game, and what direction a campaign can take.
Armagh hurlers go into Saturday’s Nicky Rackard Cup final having encountered a few ‘sliding door’ moments already. One in particular was in the frantic final moments of a gripping semi-final tussle with Tyrone, where Red Hands’ star forward Damian Casey rattled the cross-bar with a goal effort that would have edged them in front with minutes to go.
From there, Tyrone might have went on and got the result, but it was those couple of inches that preserved Armagh’s slender lead. They mustered up the grit to see out a two point win.
“It could have went either way, but the lads dug deep and got over the line,” says Armagh forward Dean Gaffney, speaking ahead of Saturday afternoon’s decider with Sligo.
“In the group game against Warwickshire, we drew. There were two goals in the last few minutes, Warwickshire got a goal with the last puck of the game to level it. It was a very good game.
“Having to travel over to that Warwickshire game, I’m not sure how many points behind at one stage in the second half. A few of the lads weren’t feeling well with the travelling, so that was a game we thought we did well to get that result. Our backs were against the wall. After that I think boys had belief that we could keep going and get over the line.”
Gaffney has played a huge role in Armagh’s progression to Saturday’s final. The Middletown Na Fianna has had the scoreboards going into overdrive with 0-46 racked up across four games. He shot a huge 16 points against Warwickshire, while his ten points – four from play – steered them to that dogged win over Tyrone.
The scoring responsibilities are a new found thing for Gaffney, who is in his third season with Armagh senior hurlers.
“It’s only kind of came in this year. I never would have been taking the frees or even getting many scores from play. I came into the panel three years ago at the end of the season, and started this year and really found my position. Even for the club, the scoring thing has just been sort of new to me.”
Armagh will need him to be putting up more of the same number against Sligo. The Yeats County have been the dark horses of this year’s Nicky Rackard, qualifying top of their group that included Division 2A side Mayo. They are chasing back-to-back promotions following last year’s triumph in the Lory Meagher Cup.
Gaffney however refused to accept his side will be wearing the favourite’s tag.
“We don’t see it as a team that way at all. We’re under no illusion, or underestimating Sligo. At the end of the day, we see it as Sligo getting a result over Mayo who were hot favourites at the very start. We need to perform at our best to be there and thereabouts.”
Fine margins again could decide how Armagh’s season finishes.