Hurling & Camogie

Down U20 hurlers chase second All-Ireland B title in three years

The clash with Roscommon will be a curtain-raiser to Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC clash between Dublin and the Rossies at Croke Park

Down's Finn Turpin and Carlow's Diarmuid Byrne. Turpin hit five points from play for the Ardsmen Picture: Philip Walsh.
Down's Finn Turpin and Carlow's Diarmuid Byrne. Turpin hit five points from play for the Ardsmen Picture: Philip Walsh.

DOWN manager Connor O’Prey is under no illusions of the task facing his side this weekend at Croke Park.

They take on Roscommon in Saturday’s All-Ireland U20 hurling final at Croke Park, a match that will be played as a curtain-raiser to Roscommon’s All-Ireland SFC clash with reigning champions Dublin.

It’s a third U20 final in succession for the Connacht side. Down beat them at Kingspan Breffni two years ago, with Derry inflicting Croke Park defeat in last season’s final.

Down scored 7-19 (v Armagh) before notching 3-32 in their semi-final win over Wicklow, while Roscommon amassed 2-30 as they saw off Mayo, leaving the prospects of a shoot-out on Saturday.

“We’re under no illusions how difficult it’s going to be,” said O’Prey, adding how Roscommon will have extra support due to the footballers playing afterwards.

“Roscommon have six or seven lads from the team that beat us in the semi-final last year and it’s the main guys that have done their scoring.”

The Down boss highlights the need to get their marking arrangements in order to help a “smoother” afternoon.

“This is the third year in a row they’ve (Roscommon) been in the final and last year (with the match being in Croke Park) they won’t be overawed by the occasion.”

Down have senior experience in the form of Pearse Smyth, Finn Turpin, Deaglan Mallon and Ben Christie.

“We couldn’t ask much more of the lads in the last few games to be honest,” said O’Prey of his group.

“The way it’s been structured you’re playing a game and then it’s another month before you’re playing again.”

That scenario allows players to hurl with their clubs in the Antrim league and for the Down minor league to also run in tandem.

“We’ve had to try and balance the books without flogging the lads,” O’Prey added. “It’s about keeping fresh and keeping things sharp.”

The season didn’t get off a positive start with an Ulster exit at the hands of eventual champions Derry.

On the night, they didn’t have the influence of Turpin (broken hand), while Ben Christie’s dead leg was first feared as a cruciate injury.

“Thankfully it wasn’t but we went into that game down our two main scoring forwards,” O’Prey added.

“We pushed them for about 45 minutes and in just the last quarter minutes they just took over and ended up winning by 15 points or so.

Down regrouped to see off Armagh and Wicklow to get back challenging for their second title in three seasons.

Playing at Croke Park will be a novelty for any player but O’Prey feels they must focus on what’s at stake. It’s about playing the game and not the occasion.

“I’d rather take it to my back garden rather than go down and enjoy an occasion and get beat,” he summed up.

“You can only enjoy it if the result favours you but at the same time the lads know they have a job to do.

“They will be focused but I’m sure in the back of their head they’re thinking ‘happy days I’m playing in Croke Park here, I wasn’t expecting this at the start of the year.’

“It’s good of the CCC to put it on but, given the fact that they’re (Roscommon) playing Dublin footballers in the game after they’ll have a bigger crowd.  But we’ll be ready for it anyway, we’ll have our homework done.”