Down hurler Eoghan Sands ready to embrace the inter-county challenge
DOWN hurler Eoghan Sands says he feels ready to embrace the demands of a senior inter-county player and is hoping to see the Ardsmen finally haul themselves out of Division 2B this season.
Regarded as one of the best young talents to emerge from the county in recent years, the 21-year-old hasn’t had an extended run with the Down seniors.
He featured on Gerard Monan and Mickey Johnston’s teams but never became a regular starter until this year.
“Coming out of minor I probably wasn’t fully committed to being an inter-county player,” Sands admitted.
“I was 18 or 19, I was at university and senior level maybe took me by surprise. I didn’t realise the commitment it needed, so I stepped away from it for a year  with the intentions of coming back.
“I’m a bit more mature now and am more committed to it. At 18, I probably wasn’t prepared to make that commitment if I’m being honest.
“All the boys have given up their summer and many of them have young families. But none of us would be there if we didn’t want to be there.”
Sands enjoyed a hugely successful underage career and played a key part in the Portaferry side that ambushed Cushendall to win the Ulster title two years ago.
He was also a member of the Down minors who famously toppled Antrim after a replay to win the Ulster title in 2012.
Fellow 2012 minors Conor O’Neill, Caolan Taggart, Caolan Baillie, Ryan Brannigan, Oisin McManus and Chris Egan form the nucleus of Marty Mallon’s senior team this year.
“A lot of that minor team is 21 or 22 now but we never really built on that success,” Sands said.
“We didn’t push on to win an U21. But we are there now and it’s a great squad. It’s up to us to step up.”
In his final year at Queen’s studying Business Management, Sands is hoping Down can reach a League decider in a bid to end their four-year residence in Division 2B.
After coming unstuck against Meath in their League opener, Down bounced back to record wins over Roscommon (h) and Mayo (a). They travel to face League leaders Wicklow in what Sands describes as their toughest challenge this year.
“We’re in a position now where we can’t afford to lose any games after losing to Meath. Every game is our League final, really.
“This will be the biggest challenge we’ve had this year.”
But with Down natives Marty Mallon, Gary Savage, Paul Coulter and Jerome McCrickard at the helm, Sands feels they’re in safe hands.
“What you see is what you get with the management team. They put us through our paces in pre-season; it wasn’t pretty. I think we needed a bit of a wake-up call.
“The last few years we’ve been in Division 2B and the only way we can prove we’re good enough is to get out of the division.”
Sands, son of former hurling ace Noel, has started each of Down's three League games and has struck up an excellent understanding with top-scorer Danny Toner.