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Preview: Nicky Rackard Cup Final

James Weir, Sligo, and Dean Gaffney, Armagh, pictured ahead of the Nicky Rackard Cup Final.

James Weir, Sligo, and Dean Gaffney, Armagh, pictured ahead of the Nicky Rackard Cup Final.

Saturday June 22

Nicky Rackard Cup Final

Armagh v Sligo, Croke Park, 4pm

Two teams with recent experience of Croke Park finals clash when Armagh and Sligo battle it out for the Nicky Rackard Cup.

Armagh are in a record seventh final in this competition – and their fourth in five years – as they bid to become the first county to lift the title for a third time. The Orchard County lost three consecutive finals between 2015 and 2017 and after being promoted to the Christy Ring Cup for 2018, they were relegated back down to the Rackard Cup.

It’s a very different picture for Sligo, who are in this final for the first time since their 2008 success. The Yeats County lost back-to-back Lory Meagher Cup deciders in 2015 and 2016, but they moved out of that tier when winning a dramatic final with a late goal against Lancashire last year.

Both of these teams lost out in Allianz Hurling League Finals this year, with Armagh falling short against Christy Ring semi-finalists Roscommon in Division 3A and Sligo missing out on more silverware when Longford won the Division 3B title after extra-time. The sides then went on to top their groups in the Nicky Rackard Cup. Armagh went through Group 1 unbeaten after wins over Monaghan and Longford sandwiched a dramatic draw against Warwickshire. Sligo also took five points in Group 2: beating Louth and Tyrone, before surviving a second-half comeback from Mayo to draw their Connacht derby. Armagh held off neighbours Tyrone at the semi-final stage, while Sligo finished strongly to get past Warwickshire.

Sligo’s 9-80 total – an impressive average score of 26.75 points – is two points per game more than Armagh’s 5-84. There is little to separate the sides on scores conceded: 5-66 for Armagh, 5-69 for Sligo.

Armagh should be able to rely on the prolific Dean Gaffney, who has 0-46 to his name so far in his side’s run. Pádraig O’Connor’s side have a strong last line of defence in Simon Doherty, who is an asset from long-range frees as well. The likes of Danny Magee, Nathan and Odhrán Curry, Ciarán Clifford, Dylan McKenna and Eoin McGuinness (whose switch to full-forward helped swing the semi-final their way) are also capable of making an impact.

Sligo have continued their upward graph under young manager Daithí Hand. Their long-serving forward Keith Raymond has provided plenty of leadership and a good chunk of scores (2-28), while Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch – one of two dual county players, along with Michael Gordon – is another influential attacker. Shane Crowley, Gary Cadden, Tony O’Kelly Lynch and Kevin Gilmartin (whose late goal decided last year’s Lory Meagher Final) have also been regular contributors on the scoreboard for Sligo, with Kevin Banks, Liam Reidy and James Weir key defenders.

Armagh may be further down the line in their development as they bid to keep the title in Ulster for a third year, following in the footsteps of Derry and Donegal.

Armagh’s Nicky Rackard Cup scorers 2019: Dean Gaffney 0-46 (37fs, 2 ‘65s); Danny Magee 2-7; Eoin McGuinness 1-7; Dylan McKenna 1-4; Odhrán Curry 0-6 (1 ’65); Nathan Curry 1-3 (1-0 pen, 0-2 ‘65s); Simon Doherty 0-4 (4fs); Shaun Toal 0-3; Paul Gaffney 0-2; Paddy McGrane, Stephen Renaghan 0-1 each.

Sligo’s Nicky Rackard Cup scorers 2019: Keith Raymond 2-28 (1-0 pen, 12fs, 3 '65s); Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch 3-8 (0-2f); Shane Crowley 1-10 (0-3f); Gary Cadden 0-10; Tony O’Kelly Lynch 0-7; Kevin Gilmartin 2-1; Conor Griffin 1-2; Joe Starr 0-4; Kevin Banks 0-3; Andrew Kilcullen 0-2; Kevin O’Kennedy, Rory McHugh, Ronan Cox, Brian Shannon, Kieran Prior 0-1 each.


Nicky Rackard Cup top scorers 2019:

Damian Casey (Tyrone) 4-46

Dean Gaffney (Armagh) 0-46

Darren Geoghegan (Louth) 0-46

Keith Raymond (Sligo) 2-28

David Buckley (Longford) 3-20

Fergal Rafter (Monaghan) 1-26

Shane Boland (Mayo) 0-29

Tyrone talisman Damian Casey is on course to top the Nicky Rackard scoring charts for a fourth time after another prolific campaign, although a 12-point haul in the final from Armagh’s Dean Gaffney could see him catch up. Darren Geoghegan marked a breakthrough year for Louth by matching Gaffney’s 46 points in four games, while Sligo veteran Keith Raymond is next in the list. Fifth place is shared by Longford’s Tipperary native David Buckley, Fergal Rafter of Monaghan and Shane Boland from Mayo.