Down should come out on top in phoney war with Mayo
Allianz National Hurling League Division 2B: Down v Mayo (tomorrow, Portaferry, 2.30pm)
WITH visitors Mayo already assured of a place in the top two, a phoney war could break out in Portaferry tomorrow. But it's one Down have to win if they intend to join them in the final.
The westerners have won four out of four so far and Down's slip up against Donegal last time out means they lie two points behind them in the standings.
With Wicklow also in the mix, victory is essential for Marty Mallon's young side and the Down manager is optimistic that his men will return to winning ways.
“After the Donegal game we need to respond and they will, I've no doubt that they will,” he said.
“Preparation wasn't good for the Donegal game and that's not taking anything away from, they were very good, but the players are good to go on Sunday.”
Caolan Taggart returns to the side after serving a one-match ban for his red card against Armagh but Danny Toner, who also missed the trip to Letterkenny with a broken hand, will miss out again tomorrow.
With a total of 3-6 over three games, Toner was a consistent performer for the Ardsmen in their wins over Derry, Wicklow and Armagh with Eoin Sands and freetaker Paul Sheehan also scoring heavily.
“If we can get the win on Sunday there's maybe a chance he'll be fit for the final,” said Mallon.
“He's a massive loss and we're hoping he'll be fit but the boys have been in great form, they're training great and the atmosphere is good so I have no complaints about them whatsoever.”
Meanwhile, after a convincing win in their opener against Donegal, Mayo have had to work hard for their subsequent wins over Armagh, Derry and Wicklow.
Dual star Keith Higgins has been to the fore with 2-13 so far but, with a final spot secured, Mallon expects wholesale changes in the Mayo ranks for tomorrow's clash.
“We have to win, they don't,” he pointed out.
“They are already in the final, they've qualified so they can do whatever they want. They don't have to show us anything – they can come up with a junior team if the like.
“I'm sure they won't want to show too much – I know we wouldn't – but we'll be going flat-out. If we can't beat Mayo at home, we'll not beat them away from home in the final and that's the bottom line.
“We're going to go at it and if we can get to the final it will represent a good year for us, a very good year because we're very young and we're making great strides.”
Apart from Toner, Mallon had no other injury problems to report.
“Other than Danny we have a clean bill of health,” he said.
“We have plenty of youth and plenty of energy and we're good to go.
“Everybody is up for it and the atmosphere is good in the camp, it's as good as I've ever seen it.
“There's nobody missing training, they're there waiting on you there and compared to last year that's brilliant. There were a lot of energy-sappers last year, but you can't say that this year at all.
“We want to get a win on Sunday because it will give us a real lift and then we can have a real crack at the final.”
As Mallon said, Down need to win this and Mayo – who face a four/five-hour trip to Portaferry – don't. Expect the Ardsmen to come through and book their place in the final.