Down hurlers begin Kehoe Cup campaign with trip to Kildare
Kehoe Cup round 2: Kildare v Down (Newbridge, tomorrow, 2pm)
DOWN begin what is primarily a fact-finding Kehoe Cup mission with a trip to Newbridge tomorrow to take on a Kildare side that copped a 16-point hammering from Offaly (2-28 to 0-18) in their opener a week ago.
The Ardsmen, who sat out last weekend's first round, have their second group game, against Offaly, on December 15 and go into tomorrow's fixture after a useful workout against Ulster University in the Conor McGurk Cup this week.
This is the first of three scheduled meetings with the Lilywhites this season (NHL Division 2B and Christy Ring Cup will follow) and Down manager Ronan Sheehan admits that he is treating the competition as a pre-season exercise for a squad that will be focussed on a push for promotion.
“It's good to get the game under our belt,” said Sheehan.
“The more games we can get the better, lads like to be playing games as opposed to training, and we'll see how it goes. We're not taking the Kehoe Cup as anything other than a pre-season competition – we'll try a few lads out, we'll try a few lads in different positions, which we did on Wednesday night against Jordanstown, and we'll give a run-out to some of the younger lads as well and we'll see where that takes us. It's good to get the game against Kildare and the game against Offaly the following week and we'd love to win at least one of those and give ourselves an opportunity of a further game as a semi-final.”
The new faces expected to be in contention for game-time tomorrow include Ronan Costello, Ryan McCusker, Matthew Mee, Ryan Courtney and Tim Prenter. Sheehan will be without several players who will be involved in tomorrow's Down U21 county hurling final between Portaferry and Ballycran including Phelim Savage but John McManus could return to action and Liam Savage is expected to be back from college in Scotland in time for the Offaly game.
“It's a matter of building for the National League and taking it from there,” said Sheehan.
“There's no point saying that promotion isn't the objective. We'd be looking to get out of Division 2B but of course so will Kildare, so will London and so will Derry!
“Those three teams have all played in Division 2A more recently than we have, we've been in three finals in six years (2014, 2016 and 2018) and we're always there or thereabouts but we haven't managed to go up.
“I was on the National Fixtures Committee and one of the things we've brought in as a proposal is that from 2021 there'll be semi-finals in Divisions 2A and 2B to try and avoid the situations whereby one loss almost knocks you out of the opportunity of promotion.
“That pressure makes it very difficult to either experiment with players and it makes it very difficult for the likes of Derry who have Slaughtneil playing in the All-Ireland semi-final in early January. If they win that then they are playing until the end of January which means they are at a real; disadvantage in the early stages of the League and sometimes the same thing affects Antrim or Down.
“The opportunity that comes in for 2021 will be excellent because it gives everybody an extra game and it allows us to experiment a wee bit more in the League which at that minute is very, very difficult because of the competitive nature of the divisions.”