Down have nothing to fear on trip to Kerry - Ronan Sheehan
Joe McDonagh Cup round one: Kerry v Down (Saturday, 12.30pm, Tralee)
KERRY may have given Down a lesson in finishing during their recent league meeting, but Ronan Sheehan insists Saturday's Joe McDonagh clash between the counties is too close to call.
The Ards men finished third in Division 2A in their first season back at the level, winning three games out of five, and although one of their two defeat was an 11-point reverse to the Kingdom, their manager insists they learnt a lot both from that reverse and the loss to Offaly.
“Let's be honest, if you said to me at start of year that we'd have survived in Division 2A, I'd have ripped your arm off. To do so with couple of games to spare was the icing on the cake,” Sheehan said as he took a break from putting the county U20s through their paces on Wednesday night.
“Okay, Kerry beat us by 11 points in the end, but the game was always in the melting pot. Offaly gave us a lesson in finishing, they did it to everybody this year, but there were still positives to be taken from the game: we never gave up, we kept coming back at them.
“The lads have grown, they have learned from the league campaign, from the likes of going down to Kerry.”
Down were safe with games to spare in 2A, polishing off Meath in a final day massacre which may have served as good target practice for the trip to Tralee, but Sheehan admits he had grave concerns at the start of the league campaign.
“I was very worried at the start of the league about our preparedness, about the lack of challenge games,” the Newry man added.
“We could have been on the end of some chastising experiences, then having to win the Wicklow game to stay up, but playing the hurling that we did gave the lads confidence. I went into the dressing room before the match against Carlow [Down won 3-20 to 3-18] and said ‘we showed we could compete against Kerry. Now, show we can win.' We've shown that.
“If you'd spoken to me at the start of year, I would have had a sense of trepidation about going down to Kerry for a McDonagh Cup tie, but having seen us play the games I have in the league, I'd say now that Saturday is 50/50, it's the toss of a coin.
“But we know the task we have in front of us, Kerry had Antrim pinned to their coats when they played last year. That's the level they're at. In the league game, we had four goal chances and we didn't take them. That was the difference between the sides on the day. We created as many chances, our hurling was as good, our fitness is as good. We've taken loads away from the league in terms of chance creation and ball retention.”
Sheehan will have more or less a full panel to pick from on Saturday, with John McManus and Chris Egan both returning from injury, although Ronan Costello split his hand catching the sliotar in training on Tuesday and may have to start off the bench.
“We set our own standards, that's what we worry about, we don't worry about what it says on the scoreboard,” said a buoyant Sheehan.
“Whoever wins on Saturday will then have fantastic momentum. If we win and then we beat Meath in Ballycran, we're staring at a Joe McDonagh Cup final. Or we could be looking at a relegation play-off.
“The Joe McDonagh is an incredible competition and we're delighted to be in it. We retained our Division 2A status, now we intend to retain our McDonagh Cup status, that's the bottom line for us, anything else is a bonus.”