Hurling & Camogie

Down count cost of Sands suspension as make-or-break Laois clash looms

Promotion to Division One up for grabs as Ardsmen travel to O’Moore Park

Down's Eoghan Sands and Meath's Nicholas Potterton in action during the Allianz Hurling Division 2 Round 5 between Down and Meath at McKenna Park,Ballycran on 03-16-2024. Pic Philip Walsh
Eoghan Sands, pictured in action during last weekend's win over Meath, is suspended for Saturday's NHL Division 2A semi-final. Picture by Philip Walsh
Allianz National Hurling League Division 2A semi-final: Laois v Down (Saturday, Portlaoise, 3.30pm)

FOR the second time in two years, Down have an opportunity to rub shoulders with hurling’s big boys as they travel to O’Moore Park for Saturday’s winner-takes-all showdown with Laois.

Despite topping the 2A table in 2022, defeat to Westmeath in Thurles saw the Ardsmen miss out on a Division One spot.

That was a league final, this is a semi-final, but both ultimately carry the same weight as the hurling leagues are restructured – with either Down or Laois going up, a final date with already-promoted Carlow meaningful only because a national title is on the line.

Having met twice in the last 12 months, the counties will know what to expect of each other when they cross the white line in Portlaoise, and Down can take great heart from their performance at O’Moore Park on the opening day of this year’s League.

With the memories of last April’s 33-point humbling at the hands of Laois still fresh, the Ardsmen pushed their opponents all the way seven weeks ago, the result hanging in the balance until Willie Maher’s men edged across the line at the end.

“We took a lot of confidence from that game,” said boss Ronan Sheehan.

“We had gone down there the previous time and Laois tore us apart, so it was very important that we got back to being competitive with these teams.

“There needs to be clarity of thought in decision-making because this will come down to who uses the ball best, who works hardest and who takes their chances. There’s no point in running about like a berserker when you need assassins on the field instead.

“But this is far more important than the next game, if we’re lucky to get to a next game. National titles are fantastic to win, but the real prize on Saturday is promotion to Division One and the opportunity to bring the likes of Dublin or Waterford to McKenna Park.”

Down welcome back John McManus, Darragh Mallon and Barry Trainor, however they will be without Eoghan Sands after the Portaferry man was shown a straight red card following a collision with Padraig O’Hanrahan in last weekend’s win over Meath.

Ronan Sheehan's Down begin their National League 2A campaign away to Laois on February 4
Ronan Sheehan's Down take on Laois in O'Moore Park on Saturday

Down appealed the referee’s decision, but it was rejected at hearing – much to the frustration of Sands and Sheehan.

“It was generally accepted there was a collision – are we now saying that collisions in hurling are dangerous?

“Referees have a very difficult job, they have to make calls in the heat of the moment, the frustration for us is a lack of consistency, in that game and other games in 2A so far when our players when our players were on the receiving end of far more serious challenges and there was no sanction.

“Part of the problem, to be fair to the GAA, is there are so many spurious appeals that it makes overturning incidents like this very tough. It’s very frustrating for Eoghan, who is a real leader for us, but we just have to get on with it and play the game.

“We’re very aware of the opportunity that’s there, and we want to grasp it if at all possible.”