Hurling and camogie

Down players were 'adamant' they wanted extra League games: Ronan Sheehan

Down boss Ronan Sheehan is confident his side can compete in Division 2A of the NHL, as well as the Joe McDonagh Cup
Neil Loughran

DOWN’S players were “absolutely adamant” that they wanted the chance to play five National League games rather than extra preparation time as Ronan Sheehan and his panel count down the days until their opening clash with Kerry.

Division One and Two hurling counties were given the choice of starting the League on the weekend of May 8/9 or an extra week’s preparation and fewer games.

Counties voted in favour of more games, and with the Ardsmen kicking off their Division 2A campaign in the Kingdom on May 9, Sheehan says knowing a return to competitive action is just around the corner brought an added buzz to training this week.

“The GAA have managed the hand dealt to them as best they can from a fixtures perspective,” said the Newry Shamrocks clubman.

“Clearly the GPA had some concerns over how quickly we were back playing and what that meant for player welfare, which was genuine as well.

“But when it was put to players, they were absolutely adamant they wanted the five games. Players want to play games - nobody wants to train, let’s be honest about it. We all train to play, not the other way round.

“Going down to play Kerry, who were in the McDonagh Cup final last year, we won’t be long knowing exactly where we are when we get back on the bus that Sunday afternoon to come home.

“It’s as good an opening as anything, and it’s brilliant for us to be here.”

After almost a decade of frustration of failed attempts at promotion, Down finally secured their 2A spot last October - the challenge now is to show they can stay there.

The trip to the Kingdom is followed by a clash with Carlow in Ballycran and away days against Wicklow and Offaly before the campaign finishes at home to Meath, and Sheehan says retaining their Division Two status is more important than earning another crack at the Joe McDonagh Cup – although they hope to be able to do both.

Earlier this week Down were drawn alongside Kerry and Meath in Group B of the McDonagh Cup, with the top team in each group facing off in the final while the bottom two will go head to head in a relegation play-off.

Both competitions represent a major step up for the 2020 Christy Ring Cup finalists but, as Sheehan says, this is where they want to be.

“The county has been waiting nearly 10 years to get back to this level of hurling and we’re confident we can compete - the only pity is the kids and supporters can’t come along to watch it.

“Down spent almost 10 years trying to get into this division, if you stay there you get five more quality games against McDonagh Cup opposition, so you’re better prepared for the McDonagh Cup simply by staying there. From a team development perspective, retaining our place in 2A is the priority and we make no apologies for that.

“In terms of the McDonagh Cup, we would see both those games as opportunities to put points on the board, particularly the Meath game at home. But let’s be clear too, since they beat Antrim in the Christy Ring final Meath have been up and down in the McDonagh Cup and they’ve yet to win a match.

“The step up from the Christy Ring to the McDonagh Cup is significant in terms of the opposition. Carlow and Westmeath are both counties who have played in the Liam MacCarthy Cup, have played in Division One in recent years.

“But Kildare, Meath and ourselves, there is nothing between those three teams. We all have a bit of work to do to catch up to the other three teams in the McDonagh Cup but we’re in with a fighting chance to stay up, there’s no doubt about that in my mind.

“It certainly isn’t beyond the ability of this team.”

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Hurling and camogie