Hurling & Camogie

Down players double-booked ahead of Saturday fixture clash

U20s go for All-Ireland B glory after seniors wrap up Joe McDonagh Cup campaign

Ronan Sheehan's Down begin their National League 2A campaign away to Laois on February 4
Down boss Ronan Sheehan has also played a part with the county U20s, who take on Roscommon in Saturday's All-Ireland B final. Picture by Philip Walsh

DOWN’S panel will be stretched for their final Joe McDonagh Cup clash following a Saturday afternoon fixtures clash with the county U20s’ All-Ireland B Championship final appearance.

The Ardsmen - who have already secured McDonagh Cup status for a fifth straight year - finish their campaign against high-flying Offaly in Ballycran at 1pm, with the U20s taking on Roscommon in Croke Park at 3pm.

Portaferry trio Finn Turpin, Pearce Smyth and Deaglan Mallon, as well as Bredagh’s Ben Christie, will line out for the U20s as they eye up All-Ireland B glory for the second time in three years.

Indeed, senior boss Ronan Sheehan has also helped out Connor O’Prey’s U20 management team this year, but his sole focus will be on Down’s battle with Offaly before attention turns to Croke Park.

“It leaves us with 22, maybe 23, fit men for Offaly but listen, it’s a great opportunity for the young lads to play in Croke Park - it’s just a pity we all can’t be there to see it,” said Sheehan.

“It would have been great to be able to travel down together to watch the boys because clearly the four lads are an integral part of our panel and we’d like to have been there to support them.

They’ll not miss my input, what happens on the pitch is what matters.

“To be fair, Offaly had already booked their hotel and had everything organised on their end so there was nothing that could be done about it.

“We’ll play at 1pm, then we’ll go in and watch the U20s together, it’s being shown live on TG4 Sport, so hopefully that lads will get over line.”

And while it is a great experience for the young Down players to experience playing at Croke Park, the Newry Shamrocks clubman feels the tiered All-Ireland underage competitions need rethought.

With the Ardsmen making year on year progress in the Joe McDonagh Cup, Sheehan feels the same structure would be of benefit at U20 level.

“Counties like Down would probably benefit from an U20 competition that is modelled on the McDonagh Cup.

“If you’re in an All-Ireland U20 B with the likes of Westmeath, Meath, Kildare, Kerry, these teams would get a lot more out of that rather than the U20 B the guys are in at the minute.

“When we’re playing at that level at senior, we really need to be playing at that level in U20s, because it’s very hard then to make that step up to compete. We saw that ourselves [in defeat to Laois] on Saturday.”

Ultimately victory over Meath on the opening day proved enough to seal Down’s McDonagh Cup survival but, with the National League restructure coming into effect next year, Sheehan feels there is “a great opportunity” to progress further in 2025.

“We’re going into a fifth year in the McDonagh, which is brilliant in many ways, and if you had said that to us in 2020 we’d have ripped your arm off for it.

“But to compete with the like Offaly and Laois, in particular, you have to get experience in Division One. For this group of players going forward, that has to be the aim.

“There’s a great opportunity next year, because you won’t really progress in the McDonagh Cup until you’re playing in Division One. That’s the reality.”