PROGRESS in the Nicky Rackard Cup is still very much within reach for the Tyrone hurlers despite what turned out to be a chastening experience in their opening championship clash at Ballinamullin on Saturday.
The unexpected gulf in standards was very clear as the Red Hands struggled to cope with slicker and more skilful opponents. Donegal had played in Division 2B of the National League and the advantages which that higher level of competition provided were capitalised on at the expense of the Red Hands.
Now Mattie Lennon and his players will hope to make full use of a three-week break before their next clash against Leitrim on June 2. But he acknowledges that big improvements are required if they are to get a second crack at Donegal in a Croke Park final next month.
“It’s disappointing to have lost this game, but we have to look at what improvements have to be made before the next game. We’ll go back training and get ready for Leitrim at the start of June,” he said.
“There are always positives to be taken out of any match. Some players did really well for us in this game. Our back line performed effectively against some of their key players and curbed them pretty well. We’ll take those, look at the video and the statistics and see what can be fixed. Nothing is gone yet in this competition. There are plenty of good hurlers in this Tyrone team, but when we’re playing against a Donegal team that has competed at a higher level we just have to step up.
“Maybe it was cuteness of Donegal that give them the edge or the fact that they were playing at a higher level and a bit sharper. We still have a big match to come, if we can win that then we’re back in the game again.”
The former Armagh manager cited Tyrone’s competitiveness during the first half of the clash as one of the positives that they’ll hope to build on.
“Even though we conceded the early goal, Donegal didn’t have a lot of chances in the opening period and we probably had more opportunities. Maybe we gave away cheap possession, but the first half was close for most of it,” he added.
“Overall, it’s disappointing to lose and we can’t focus on this defeat. This game shows the importance of us trying to get promotion into Division 2B of the National League and it was absolutely a factor.”