Down expect step up in class against Antrim in McGurk Cup final
FREE-scoring Down pit themselves against Antrim in tomorrow evening’s McGurk Cup final at the Dub and, with places at stake for the National League, the young Ardsmen will be hoping to impress manager Ronan Sheehan.
Down racked up impressive totals against Fermanagh (32 points) and Ulster University (3-19) but Darren Gleeson’s Antrim will be a considerable step up in class and Sheehan is looking forward to seeing how his players react to the challenge.
“We’ve given the whole panel a run-out and we’ve probably used 32 players between the Kehoe Cup and the McGurk Cup,” said Sheehan whose only injury concerns centre on Matt Conlon and John McManus.
“We’ve had young lads like Tim Prenter, Ronan Costello and Niall McFarlane who have all done well and this final is a good opportunity for them. As well as that we have a couple of the older boys back on the panel now – Conor Woods has slotted in there and Chrissy Egan has joined the panel which is a good boost to us so we’d be hoping to get Chrissy a bit of game-time.
“Then you’ve got guys like Ryan McCusker and Pearse Og McCrickard who aren’t from traditional hurling clubs but have been playing really well for us so we’re happy with the progress the lads are making and I’ll be looking to give a lot of those lads a run-out on Saturday to see how they fare.”
Down’s form has been eye-catching but the same is true of Gleeson’s Glensmen who hammered Queen’s University 4-26 to 0-11 to reach tomorrow’s final.
“It’s a good test for us,” said Sheehan.
“I think both ourselves and Antrim will be focussing on getting a good performance in and anything above that will be a bonus. It will be a very good test for us on the basis that Antrim are a division above us and looking to push into Division 1B.
“It will give us a good indication of where we are and how we’re able to match Antrim defensively because they’ve got a very good set of forwards there. It’s going to be a very good test for our lads.
“I’d be very happy with how we’re playing to be honest.
“We’ve scored over 20 points in almost every game so far. We scored 2-18 against Offaly as well including 14 points from play which was a really good return so we’re scoring well.
“We’ll be looking to get a good return from play on Saturday night and a good performance under our belts to set us up for the National League.
“But we’re well aware that Antrim have a lot of very good players and are going well themselves so it’s a big, big test for our lads.”
The Saffrons begin their Division 2A campaign with a trip to Wicklow and Down’s National League campaign also starts on January 26, with a trip to Derry. The Oak Leafers could well have their Slaughtneil players – who take on Kilkenny’s Ballyhale Shamrocks in the All-Ireland club hurling championship semi-final on Sunday – available by that stage.
“It’s going to be a big test,” said Sheehan.
“They’ll be looking to get off to a good start the same way we will be. Clearly the Slaughtneil boys have a big match on Sunday but we’d be expecting to see them back on Sunday.”