The Armagh hurling team enjoyed a pretty successful year in 2019, making both the league final and the Nicky Rackard Cup Final, but just fell short on both occasions, losing out to Roscommon in the league showpiece while Sligo claimed the Nicky Rackard Cup, winning by a single point, 2-14 to 2-13. Throughout the year, wing half forward and free taking specialist, Dean Gaffney led the way and was instrumental in Armagh reaching Croke Park.
Armagh topped their Nicky Rackard Cup group, capturing five points from a possible six and going three games unbeaten, defeating both Monaghan and Longford while also finishing on level terms away to Warwickshire in round two. They displayed serious battling qualities, coming from behind against both Monaghan and Warwickshire to secure results.
Gaffney top scored in all of his sides’ group games hitting 8 points in their win against Monaghan, 16 scores vs Warwickshire and 11 in the final group game away to Longford, where his side had 10 points to spare when the final whistle sounded.
The Middletown man continued in the same vein of form in his sides two points win over near neighbours Tyrone in the semi final, raising 10 white flags, while he split the posts on six occasions in the showpiece. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be on the day for Armagh, and although Gaffney enjoyed a great year personally, the final loss leaves a scar that his teammates will find hard to heal.
“It’s great to get these awards, and these events are great to go to, but for us as a team, we felt we left something behind us last year and we’ll just hopefully rebuild now towards next year and go that step further in the Nicky Rackard Cup and eventually get there because we’ve been close the last few years.”
Danny Magee’s goal just before the interval left Armagh in prime position heading into the second half as they held a 1-10 to 1-8 lead but the side just came up short in the second period and Armagh’s talisman looked to the final 10 minutes, where the game was lost from Armagh’s grasps.
“I just felt maybe in the final we lost our way, maybe communication, we lost our shape in the last 10 minutes. We were going well, we were ahead but Sligo nicked it. No one could believe what happened, it was over in a flash but we’re going to have to look at that and look at the things that went wrong and they need to be corrected before we move forward.”
While being crowned the top hurler in the county for 2019 as well as being nominated for a PwC Hurling Champions 15 All-Star is a pleasure, the award fails to be any consolation to Gaffney for losing the Nicky Rackard Cup Final, “No, it’s nice to get them but it’s no consolation, at the end of the day it’s a team sport. We want to get over the line next year and that’s what is in everyone in the team’s head.”
Looking forward to 2020, Gaffney insists the Orchard County will once again target Nicky Rackard Cup glory and attempt to lift the trophy for the first time since 2012, “Yeah definitely, we’ll hopefully start off with a good league campaign, we got to the league final last year so hopefully we’ll give it a rattle and build on from last year.”