Down hurlers target promotion push in 2018 says Clonduff dual star Rian Branagan
PROMOTION will be the first target for the Down hurlers next year says dual player Rian Branagan.
The Clonduff clubman, who was named at corner-forward in last year's Irish News Down club football Allstar select, is also part of the Down hurling set up under the management of Marty Mallon and Paul Coulter.
Last year Down, inspired by the scores of key forward Danny Toner, beat Roscommon, Mayo and Derry in Division 2B of the NHL but lost to promoted Meath and Wicklow. Branagan says the Ardsmen need to go a step further next year when they go up against Mayo and Wicklow again as well as Ulster rivals Donegal, Derry and Armagh.
“Playing in 2A and pushing for Division 1B is how we are going to develop,” said Branagan.
“We would always set our goals as winning 2B, getting promoted and working from there. We've been unlucky, we've been beaten in a couple of recent finals (2014 and 2016) so it's just getting over that last hurdle.
“Hopefully this year we will address that and our target will be to get promoted. You want to be playing against the Antrims and the Carlows and the Westmeaths – you want to be up at that level.”
Down also fell short in the Christy Ring Cup last year. After beating Roscommon in their opening game, the Ardsmen ran into Antrim twice and exited at the semi-final stage.
“It didn't go as planned,” said Branagan.
“You're always looking to compete well in the Christy Ring and maybe get to the final – you want to be playing at Croke Park, whether you're a hurler or a footballer that's the ultimate goal. Hopefully next year we'll get there.”
Antrim are the sole Ulster representatives in the top three tiers of the National Hurling League next year. However, the emergence of Slaughtneil in Derry has ensured that the northern province remains competitive at club level and Branagan agrees that the rise of the Emmet's is “a massive incentive for Down clubs”.
“They would look at Slaughtneil and think: ‘Maybe we can out-hurl them? Maybe we can out-play them?'” he said.
“But Slaughtneil are a great example of how to address that dual-player issue.
“I'm a dual player myself – I play football and hurling for Clonduff and I'm equally committed to both of them.
“I would love to see more dual players all over Down. Slaughtneil have it worked out that they're training for hurling one week and then it's football the next week – they have found the balance.
“They are real, passionate clubmen and I would say they are the example. If we could follow their lead it would be a good thing.”
Dual players have long been regarded as an endangered species, but Slaughtneil have bucked that trend by including the likes of Chrissy and Karl McKaigue, Brendan Rodgers, Paul McNeil and Shane McGuigan who switch almost seamlessly between codes.
“Slaughtneil show that it can be done,” said Branagan.
“I've a couple of good club managers who have let me work away between the two codes and they know that I'm keeping myself fit with all the training I'm doing and the ultimate goal is to be playing football and hurling every week.
“Ross Carr is our senior football manager at the club and any time I need to go to county hurling or I have a match it's 100 per cent, there's no incentive for me to be going to training all the time and I really appreciate that.
“After you're looking to be a dual player that's what you need, you need communication between you're football manager and you're hurling manager and be able to work between the two of them.”
Malachy Magee has played hurling and football for Down in recent seasons and Branagan admits he'd like to emulate the Ballela clubman at some stage.
“Fair play to Mal, he managed that but it's very hard at county level,” he said.
“I know the commitments that footballers and hurlers give – it would need a lot of communication. It's a goal, it's something I would love to do, but I'll concentrate on the hurling for now.”