Down ready to 'Rock' after calling on help of Cork legend Diarmuid O'Sullivan
DOWN will be ready to ‘Rock’ when they face Meath in next weekend’s Christy Ring Cup final after enlisting the help of Cork legend Diarmuid O’Sullivan.
A three-time All-Ireland winner, O’Sullivan – known as ‘The Rock’ – is one of the most renowned full-backs in hurling history, and also happens to be a good friend of Down boss Ronan Sheehan.
The Ardsmen battled their way out of Group One courtesy of victories over Wicklow and Donegal before seeing off Roscommon in the semi-final last weekend.
And O’Sullivan, a long-time “friend of Down hurling”, has been a key figure behind the scenes in their run to the Christy Ring decider, which takes place at Croke Park on Saturday, July 22.
“Diarmuid’s in doing a bit of defensive coaching with us, he’s been there for almost all of the Christy Ring games,” said the Down boss, a Newry native with strong links to the Rebel County.
“Himself and Donal Og Cusack are good friends of mine, and Diarmuid would know a lot of the boys from the development squads because he would’ve come and done coaching sessions down through the years.
“The first set of minors he would’ve been involved with was probably the likes of Conor Woods, so it’s going back quite a bit.
“It’s good to have that to call on, and in general he’s just a great hurling man who comes from a great hurling family.
“Having him there with what people would probably rightly say is a relatively inexperienced management team, as well as a relatively inexperienced team on the field of play, has become very important.
“We see this as a bit of a journey over the next two to three years and Diarmuid being there to help along the way will make a massive difference.”
And in terms of the difference O’Sullivan has made to a young Down defence, as well as his influence on matchdays, Sheehan was fulsome in his praise.
“In terms of his knowledge of the game and the wee bits of coaching he does around how to tackle, there have been huge strides,” he added.
“Tackling was definitely something we felt we needed to work on, we were giving away far too many frees in the past. You can see the difference even in the way the likes of Tom Murray, only 20, and Darragh Mallon at 22 are playing – they’re like veterans.
“The other thing he brings to it is a great calmness on match day and that experience he has. The lads respond well to that, when he has a quiet word with them beforehand.
“He’s not saying anything different to what we’re saying but he’s just reiterating those messages and it carries that wee bit more weight when it comes from someone like Diarmuid.”