Below-par Down should have enough to get past struggling Roscommon
Christy Ring Cup round one: Down v Roscommon (today, 1pm, Ballycran)
WHAT a difference a year can make. This time 12 months ago, Roscommon travelled to Ballycran full of belief that they could claim a major Christy Ring scalp.
They stayed in Dundalk the night previous and arrived at McKenna Park before the hosts. Having blazed a trail through the League and pushed Antrim all the way the week previous, and seen how Down struggled to get past a demoralised Derry, the Rossies scented blood on the peninsula.
It wasn’t to be as a strong second half saw the Ardsmen progress, but there was a sense that Roscommon were a team to keep an eye on.
A year on, and those predictions have proved premature. The Rossies have gone straight back down to Division 3A with a whimper, losing all five games before being edged out by Mayo in the relegation play-off.
After their defeat to Derry at Celtic Park on March 12, manager Johnny Kelly stood against the changing room wall, crestfallen. Not just because they had lost, but because of issues going on in the background regarding unpaid expenses and issues with the county board.
It was clear for anyone to see that all was not well in the Roscommon camp, and they played like a team low on morale that day.
It’s no great surprise that the bookies have Marty Mallon’s men as favourites, although the 2/9 on offer is perhaps slightly flattering for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, when the counties last met at the same venue back in February, the Rossies hung on to Down’s coat-tails gamely until late on, a goal from substitute Gareth ‘Magic’ Johnston eventually seeing them over the line.
Secondly, while Roscommon have difficulties behind the scenes, Down are not exactly in a great place either.
They played well in fits and starts through the League but failed to finish in the top two of Division 2B, before being dumped out of the Ulster Championship by Armagh a fortnight ago.
The Ardsmen travelled to Inniskeen with only 19 players that day, and played the majority of the match with 14 men after Caolan Bailie’s first half red card. Suspension rules him out today, another blow to Down’s already diminished attacking options.
Caolan Taggart twisted his knee during the League and isn’t expected to be available, and either is Danny Toner. The Ballygalget forward picked up an injury in a club game three weeks ago and Down boss Marty Mallon isn’t hopeful about his chances today.
“It’s looking grim,” said Mallon. “He got a knee in the hamstring and he’s black from the hip to the back of the knee - he’s in a wild state.”
There is some good news though, with the influential Donal Hughes back in the frame, while key forward Eoghan Sands could return from the hamstring injury that ruled him out of the defeat to the Orchardmen.
Victory today could provide a kick-start to a disjointed season, with Mallon eyeing a run in the Christy Ring.
He said: “We’re hoping for a home draw if we can get over Roscommon.
“We’d love that, then you never know where it could take you and get a few boys fit. It’s a chance for us to get back on track.
“We’ll give this a lash, we’ve nothing to lose. If we can beat Roscommon, we’ll hopefully get a home draw in the quarter-final and then you don’t know what might happen.”