Hurling & Camogie

Down can build on Laois performance with Ballycran victory over Kerry to kick-start campaign

Down's Finn Turpin and Carlow's Diarmuid Byrne. Turpin hit five points from play for the Ardsmen Picture: Philip Walsh.
Finn Turpin sustained a broken finger in last week's defeat to Laois, and misses Down's clash with Kerry in Ballycran
Allianz National Hurling League Division 2A, round two
Down v Kerry (Saturday, Ballycran, 1pm – live on BBC iPlayer)

THE outcome may have been the same in terms of points on the board, but Down had plenty more to be proud of when they left Portlaoise last week compared to eight months earlier.

In the second round of 2023 Joe McDonagh Cup fixtures, the Ardsmen came away from O’Moore Park on the wrong end of a 30-point hammering at the hands of their hosts. Minus some key men, and coming off the back of defeat to Kerry the previous weekend, it was a shocking low.

Yet it became clear from early on last weekend that there would be no repeat of that result, Ronan Sheehan’s side battening down the hatches and denying Laois any kind of daylight.

Inside the last quarter, Down trailed by just a point, while the hosts had Willie Dunphy sent off.

However, any hopes of an upset were soon extinguished when Marc Fisher followed Dunphy off the field three minutes later, before a Mark Dowling goal put Laois back in the ascendancy.

“There was mixed feelings after,” said Sheehan.

“We could’ve got a result, I was very happy and very proud of the performance, particularly in light of what happened last year. The guys did everything asked of them, executed the game-plan very well.

“We were right in the game until the last five minutes when we missed a chance and they got a goal. So there was slight disappointment and frustration because we had put ourselves in a really good position.”

Still, the performance level sends the Ardsmen into Saturday’s showdown with Kerry in high spirits, though Sheehan admits that showing in Laois will “count for nothing” if Down don’t carry that momentum forward.

They will be without Finn Turpin for a few weeks after he suffered a broken finger last week, while a wrist injury could mean joint captain Eoghan Sands starts on the bench rather than lining out. Carryduff’s Conor Cassidy is also unavailable.

However, Liatroim’s Ruairi McCrickard is back in the fold and could make his first start of the campaign, while Portaferry full-back Tom Murray is on the comeback trail, and could feature in the League clash with Kildare on February 25.

Forward Tom McGrattan was unavailable for the trip to Portlaoise, but will be back for the Kingdom clash.

Fionán Mackessy of Kerry with his trophy after winning the 2023 M. Donnelly GAA All-Ireland Poc Fada Finals at Annaverna Mountain in the Cooley Peninsula, Ravensdale, Louth. PICTURE: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Down struggled to get to grips with Kerry powerhouse Fionan Mackessy in last year's Joe McDonagh Cup clash. Picture by Sportsfile

Like Down, Kerry got off to a losing start, beaten 3-22 to 0-19 by Joe McDonagh Cup champions Carlow, and Kerry boss Stephen Molumphy is sweating on the fitness of star forward Shane Conway, who missed that game in Tralee with a back problem.

Jordan Conway, Daniel Collins and Paudie O’Connor are currently unavailable, so too Eoin Ross, while stalwart Mikey Boyle has retired from the inter-county arena.

On their most recent trip to Ballycran last June, a Fionan Mackessy-inspired Kingdom came away with a 12-point Joe McDonagh Cup win. That was in glorious sunshine whereas, after the wet weather in recent days, with more expected, the field at McKenna Park lends itself to more of a dogfight between these familiar foes.

“Last year, we didn’t have CT [Caolan Taggart] and a few others. If you go back and watch that match, we hit an inordinate amount of wides, we also hit the crossbar from Daithi [Sands], Ruairi hit the post…

“The XG of that game was for us to win by three points! Look, Kerry fully deserved the win, I’m not an XG zealot, these things have to be put in context sometimes. But it probably was a closer result than the scoreline suggested.

“But we’re coming in in better form than the corresponding game last year. If we can replicate the Laois performance, and learn a couple of lessons, hopefully we’ll be in a really good place by about half two on Saturday afternoon.”