Down hurling in 'a better place' as 2020 looms despite absence of some key men
BOSS Ronan Sheehan feels Down are “in a better place” heading into 2020, despite the loss of key forward Daithi Sands as well as coach Diarmuid O’Sullivan.
Portaferry forward Daithi Sands, who was named in the GAA-GPA Champion 15 after some scintillating performances in Down’s charge to the Christy Ring Cup final, is on work placement in America and won’t feature next year.
Newry Shamrocks ace Paul Sheehan also misses out after suffering a cruciate injury, but experienced Ballycran playmaker Conor Woods has returned to the panel, while there was also some positive news for Sands’s brother, Eoghan.
“Losing Paul and Daithi is obviously a blow but, on the flip side, Eoghan is still involved and has secured a job closer to home. Last year he was commuting from Carrick-on-Shannon, which was difficult for him.
“Having Conor back is also great news, in terms of his impact in the dressing room and his quality on the field too. He’s a great lad in general and the young lads in particular look up to him and react well to him.
“Brook Byers is home from Australia too and while he’s starting a job in Derby very soon, that’s an easier commute than Brisbane so we’ll try and work something there where we can. That’s a good boost for us.
“What we’ve lost on the swings we’ve gained on the roundabout. In many ways, we’ve probably broken about even in terms of boys available, maybe even slightly ahead compared to last year.
“With the experience the lads gained last year, it leaves us in a better place heading into the National League this time around.”
Cork legend O’Sullivan, known as ‘The Rock’ during his playing days, will no longer be involved with the Ardsmen having returned to the Rebel County fold as part of Kieran Kingston’s backroom team.
Sheehan insists, though, that the impression made by O’Sullivan throughout his involvement with the Down hurlers will stand to them as they target promotion from Division 2B of the National League.
“Thankfully the structure and the thought process Sully helped us put in place remains and you can see that bit of maturity in terms of making the right decisions, of doing the right thing on the field and off it,” said the Newry Shamrocks stalwart.
“The work he did with us last year has given us a bit of benefit and we hope to build on that going into next year in the National League and Christy Ring Cup.”
Sheehan must prepare his men for two games this weekend, starting today (1.30pm) against Fermanagh in the McGurk Cup, before a Kehoe Cup clash with Offaly at the National Games Development Centre in Abbotstown tomorrow (2pm).
Having recorded an opening win over Ulster University last week, Sheehan may hand some of the Down U20 panel a chance to impress against the Ernemen today, with the likes of Joe Hanrahan, Padraig Doran and Cathal Coulter in the shake-up for selection.
A stronger side is expected to face the Faithful as Down bid to build on victory over Kildare last weekend, but Sheehan says it can be difficult to strike a balance between game-time and periods of rest at this time of year.
“It’s a lot to ask of lads; they have to have a life too. We’ve lost the balance a bit.
“We’re working off a panel of 32 players, and we’ve been trying to avoid using any of the lads playing with Queen’s or Jordanstown, and instead giving them a run out in the Kehoe Cup instead and trying to manage their workload.
“John McManus will probably play on Sunday, we haven’t used him so far, Liam Savage is home from Scotland, he’s in college there but he’ll get a run out this weekend.
“You’ve got to be fair to all competitions, and the McGurk Cup has been good to us. We have a responsibility to treat it with a level of seriousness and to try and improve the competitiveness in Ulster hurling.
“We’ve got great value out of both competitions; we look likely to end up with six or seven games between the two of them, which is fantastic in terms of giving us an opportunity to test guys out and give them games.”