Armagh senior hurlers will face off against near-neighbours Tyrone in the Nicky Rackard All-Ireland Hurling Championship semi-final in Carrickmore on Saturday 20 May. Armagh will be hoping to reach their third successive Nicky Rackard final, having fallen agonisingly short in the last two years. The Orchard hurlers, overseen by Middletown’s Sylvester McConnell, will come up against a Tyrone side under the tutelage of former Armagh manager and proud Derrynoose man, Mattie Lennon.
Armagh have had a difficult enough year so far in 2017, having suffered a number of high profile injuries, but this has also been mixed with a number of big performances and results that have backed up the recent resurgence in the fortunes of the county’s hurlers. Having won last year’s Allianz League Division 2B title last year, Armagh made the step-up to Division 2B, where they faced a number of Christy Ring sides, as well as Westmeath, who are currently involved in the opening stages of the first grade Liam McCarthy championship. A narrow opening day defeat against a Kildare side backed up by five high-profile “transfers” from hurling hotspots, Limerick, Kilkenny and Tipperary, gave the Armagh men huge belief, before an impressive draw against a decent London side saw Armagh hurlers earn their first ever point in the higher division. A good performance against Antrim which should have resulted in a win or draw was, however, followed up with big defeats against Westmeath and Carlow sides who are both well-experienced at Division 1B and Division 2A levels.
The Ulster championship, which this year was slotted in between league and championship, saw the Orchard side once again get the better of near neighbours and intense rivals, Down, a feat which all Armagh Gaels hope will be repeated by the Orchard footballers on Sunday June 4. The Ulster final was a forgettable affair for Armagh as Antrim romped home to an easy victory and to a 16th successive and overall 57th Ulster title.
An injury-ravaged Armagh side missing the likes of the experienced Stephen Renaghan, Ryan Gaffney, Nathan Curry and joint-captain Shea Gaffney opened the Nicky Rackard campaign on a downer, with Donegal claiming an impressive win to relegate Armagh to the ‘back-door’ route. Armagh did indeed regroup and wins over Louth and Longford have put Armagh back in a semi-final, where they will face a Tyrone side buoyed by very good wins over Monaghan and Donegal.
Joint captain David Carvill and Keady’s Conor Corvan have provided the main scoring threat for the Orchard county, with Cahal Carvill and Ryan Gaffney also up front. The back line, shored up by Artie McGuinness and Ciarán Clifford who have both shown well this year, with John Corvan and Paul Gaffney also putting in good shifts this year. Seasoned campaigners Nathan Curry and Connor Devlin have also performed well in recent games, with the likes of Dylan McKenna, Danny Magee and Caily Gorman posing a threat up front. Tyrone, meanwhile will look to Damien Casey, who has so far proved to be the main scoring threat, and also to Conor and Sean Óg Grogan. Tyrone boss Mattie Lennon, who had the advantage of watching Armagh last day out, will be very familiar with the Armagh boys and he will have his side well-prepared for the battle. Having reached Croke Park over the past couple of seasons, Armagh hurlers will be determined to make it back to GAA headquarters and attempt to make it third time lucky and finally win back the Nicky Rackard championship. However, Armagh’s focus over the next few days will be entirely on the semi-final against Tyrone and if they play to their strengths, they should have just about enough to claim the win and make a third successive Nicky Rackard final.