Ronan Sheehan: Win over Warwickshire will put Down right in promotion mix
National Hurling League Division 2B: Down v Warwickshire (Saturday, Ballycran, 12.30pm)
RONAN Sheehan has his priorities in the right order. The first time he was called for an interview mid-week, he let the phone ring off as he was in the middle of guiding his son through his homework.
Only when the primary four's homework was complete and Sheehan was out in the midst of freezing conditions preparing for a dark February evening training session did he take the call. By then, the Down hurling manager was happy to shoot the breeze about what has been an encouraging start to their Division 2B campaign.
Losing out by a single goal to Derry at Celtic Park on the opening day, the Ards men made amends with a crushing defeat of Roscommon at Ballycran the following weekend. This weekend, they're back at Ballycran for the visit of Warwickshire, a win over whom would put them right in the middle of a promotion dog fight, which is exactly where Sheehan wants to be.
“We were very happy to bounce back the way we did against Roscommon because we were disappointed after the Derry game,” the Down boss said.
“Derry's never easy to go and get a result from, don't get me wrong, but we created about 40 chances and only took 19 of them, which is probably a bit similar to what we did in the Christy Ring against them  and it became a bit of a ‘free fest' as well, which didn't really suit us.
“Against Roscommon, our shooting averages were improved dramatically, up over the 60 per cent mark, and as a consequence we won quite comfortably, particularly given that Roscommon have made a lot of progress over the past couple of years, so we were very happy with the comprehensive nature of the victory.”
There were two areas of concern from the Derry defeat which Sheehan was pleased to see addressed on the pitch against Roscommon.
“Our work rate, particularly the tackling from our forwards, was up very significantly and, secondly, the things we had been working on in training in terms of taking our chances,” he added.
“We created four goal chances against Derry and took none of them, hit the ball very much almost at the goalkeeper in one-on-one situations. We had two of those against Roscommon and we did exactly what we do in training – hit the ball low and almost roll the ball into the net.”
Oisín McManus has hit 1-25 for Down in their two games to date, 1-6 of that from play, and Sheehan was full of praise for the Liatroim Fontenoys star and another player who has been raising eyebrows.
“Oisín has been top class in front of the posts,” he said.
“I'm also delighted with Ryan McCusker because he's coming from a fairly small junior club in Ballela and he's put an awful lot of work in this year, he's working incredibly hard. Unfortunately, he picked up an injury a couple of weeks before the Derry game and wasn't able to start it, but he started against Roscommon and did pretty well.
“We're delighted with Pearse Óg McCrickard, who's returned from a very serious long-term injury and the likes of Darragh Mallon has continued to grow this year and do really, really well, as indeed have John McManus and Caolan Taggart, who I would argue are as good hurlers as you would get anywhere.”
With the early pace-setters in Division 2B, Derry and Kildare, playing each-other on Sunday, Sheehan is eager to take advantage of whatever result emerges from Owenbeg.
“Ourselves, Derry and Kildare are the three main teams in the promotion mix at this stage,” he said.
“I think London, after losing to both Kildare and Derry will find it very difficult to get back into the mix. We were always of the view that you'd need to win four games to effectively put yourself in the promotion shake-up.
“Hopefully, we'll have two more points on the board come Saturday night, allowing us to go view the Derry v Kildare match and see what the result is there.”