Preview: Nicky Rackard Cup Final - Derry v Armagh
Nicky Rackard Cup Final
Armagh v Derry, Saturday, 3.00, Croke Park
By Colm Shalvey
Unsurprisingly, this year’s Nicky Rackard Cup Final is an all-Ulster clash, with Derry and Armagh battling it out.
Five of the seven teams entering the 2017 Nicky Rackard Cup were from Ulster and this is the seventh game of the competition to be played between two teams from the province.
Long-time favourites Derry have experienced little trouble in qualifying for the final. They saw off Louth in the first round, before finding their goal-scoring touch in their last two games, where they blitzed both Longford and Monaghan with eight and six majors, respectively.
Armagh fell to a surprise defeat away to Donegal in their opening game, but they got back on track with wins over Louth and Longford and an impressive semi-final victory away to neighbours Tyrone.
Neither side enjoyed much success in the Allianz Hurling League this year, with Armagh getting relegated from Division IIA and Derry finishing fourth in Division IIB, but they have both made strides as the year has gone on.
Derry reached the Christy Ring Cup Final as recently as 2015, but after losing that to Kerry, they saw a depleted team end up getting relegated last year.
Derry haven’t been in the Nicky Rackard since going all the way back in 2006 and they have already secured one promotion this year by winning the Ulster Senior Hurling Shield to book their return to the Championship proper.
The Oak Leaf County are managed by former dual star Colm McGurk, who won an All-Ireland Senior Football Championship medal in 1993.
Armagh are in this final for the third year in a row after losing to Roscommon in 2015 and Mayo 12 months ago, by a combined total of just three points. The Orchard County won the Nicky Rackard Cup in 2010 and 2012 and have the chance to become the first county to win it for a third time.
They competed in the Christy Ring Cup in three of the last five years and are determined to return to the second tier. Armagh have also qualified for the last two Ulster Senior Hurling Championship Finals, only to lose both to provincial kingpins Antrim.
Derry have a huge total of 16-55 in three outings, which gives them an average score of 34.33 points. They have conceded less than half what they have scored (3-38; 15.67 points per game). Armagh have managed 6-81 in four matches (24.75 points on average), while conceding 4-54, which is just 14 points per game.
Derry have a fine spread of scorers in their winning run, with Alan Grant, Brendan Rogers, Ruairí Convery and Brian Cassidy all tallying at least 15 points over their three games.
Rogers (one of several dual stars from Ulster club champions Slaughtneil) managed the rare feat of scoring back-to-back hat-tricks against Longford and Monaghan; the latter after coming on as a substitute. Kevin and Liam Óg Hinphey, Oisín McCloskey and Gerald Bradley are also influential for Derry, who will hope to be able to call on Chrissy McKaigue.
Armagh captain David Carvill hit 1-11 last time out to leave himself well clear at the top of the Nicky Rackard Cup scoring charts on 2-34. Sylvester McConnell’s side will need him on top form from play and from frees, while Nathan Curry, Ryan Gaffney and Conor Corvan should also be among the scorers, with Fiachra Bradley and John Corvan other central players.
The last four Nicky Rackard Cup Finals have all been decided by margins of four points or less, including one-point games in 2014 and 2015. Armagh will need to curb a rampant Derry attack if they are to avoid more final-day heartbreak this time around.
Armagh’s Nicky Rackard Cup scorers 2017: David Carvill 2-34 (0-24f); Conor Corvan 1-16 (0-5f); Nathan Curry 1-7 (1-0 pen, 0-2f); Ryan Gaffney 1-3; Fiachra Bradley 1-2; Dylan McKenna, Cahal Carvill 0-5 each; Danny Magee, Caily Gorman, John Corvan 0-2 each; Odhrán Curry, Connor Devlin, Dean Gaffney 0-1 each.
Derry’s Nicky Rackard Cup scorers 2017: Brendan Rogers 6-3; Alan Grant 4-9 (1-0 pen, 0-4f); Ruairí Convery 1-14 (0-10f); Brian Cassidy 3-6; Meehaul McGrath 1-4; Aaron Kelly 0-5; Gerald Bradley 1-2; Darragh Cartin 0-4; Kevin Hinphey 0-3; Ciarán Steele, Chrissy McKaigue, Paul Cleary, Eugene McGuckin, Liam Óg Hinphey 0-1 each.
Nicky Rackard Cup top scorers 2017:
David Carvill (Armagh) 2-34
Damian Casey (Tyrone) 2-23
Brendan Rogers (Derry) 6-3
Alan Grant (Derry) 4-9
Conor Corvan (Armagh) 1-16
Saturday’s finalists dominate the Nicky Rackard Cup scoring charts, with Armagh’s David Carvill well clear at the top, ahead of Tyrone star Damian Casey, who led the way in each of the previous three years.
Derry duo Brendan Rogers and Alan Grant share third place, with the former the highest scorer from open play, while their team-mate Ruairí Convery is two points outside the top five, which is completed by another Armagh forward, Conor Corvan.