Hurling and camogie

Conor Woods unsure what future holds after helping Down seal McDonagh status

Conor Woods came off the bench to help Down finally see off Meath in Ballycran on Saturday - and it could have been his last appearance in county colours. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

CONOR Woods doesn’t know for sure if Saturday’s McDonagh Cup win over Meath was the last time Down supporters will see him in county colours but, if it was, what a way to go.

The 33-year-old, who made his inter-county debut against Meath in 2008, came off the bench against the Royals with nine minutes left at his old stomping ground, Ballycran’s McKenna Park.

A fractured thumb - sustained in defeat to Offaly three weeks earlier - was expected to rule Woods out for the rest of the campaign but, when he entered the fray on Saturday, Jack Regan had just closed the gap to two as nerves continued to jangle.

Meath knew only victory would save their skin, while a draw was enough to secure Down’s Joe McDonagh status for another year. However, it was only when Woods came on and steadied the ship that survival was finally secured.

Within a minute of his introduction he nailed a free from just in front of the Down square to extend the lead to three. Two minutes after that he played a key role as the Ardsmen bagged their crucial second goal of the day – blocking the path of Royals full-back Sean Geraghty and forcing a scramble that resulted in the sliothar trickling over the line.

“He even won a couple of frees after that other people probably wouldn’t have won,” smiled Down boss Ronan Sheehan.

“Woodsy made a big impact but we knew he would. He has been an incredible servant to Down hurling and hopefully we’ll see him back in a Down jersey, but if we don’t I think it was a fitting end to his career here in Ballycran - a win for Down and keeping us up.”

It brought to a close an impressive year the county, one which saw them not only hold their own in Division 2A but push for promotion to hurling’s top flight before ensuring another crack at the McDonagh Cup next year.

Woods has been a central figure, but personal circumstances dictated that it had been a tougher campaign to negotiate at times - and that is why Saturday might just have been his swansong with the county.

“We’ve a lot going on at home,” he said.

“Hollie had twin boys eight weeks ago, Noah and Rory… one of the wee lads was in intensive care at the start – just around the time of the League final - so it was tough.

“He’s home now and they’re both doing great, everything’s settled down a bit on that front thankfully. Ronan had a big part to play there too, sometimes just giving you that bit of slack, where others might not have given you the same sort of flexibility.

“Like, I went to the League final in Thurles, but then I missed the first McDonagh Cup game in Kerry, it was just tough at that time, so it was great that he allowed me to stay part of.

“But as for next year, I don’t know - I’ll see how it goes. When you’re leaving in the evening to go to training and Hollie’s sitting there with the three of them… I’d love to play on, but you want your life to go on outside of hurling too.

“Sometimes it all sort of catches up with you.”

With three-year-old Harry looking out for his twin brothers, wise heads from neighbouring parishes are already fearing the prospect of an all-Woods half-back line wearing black and amber in years to come.

Having followed in the footsteps of his own father, Dermot, Woods can look back with plenty of pride, whatever the future holds. But finishing the year on a high was the only option on Saturday.

“It would have been a disaster if we’d lost.

“Not even just this year, the last couple of years, what Ronan’s done. It’s quite a young team, there’s not too many of us over 30, so there’s still progress to be made with this group. The lads are in good shape to push on again.

“It’s enjoyable at the minute. Like, I’ve played for a long time and for a good few years there it was hard going, playing for Down, but the last few years I’ve enjoyed it as much as I’ve ever enjoyed it.

“It’s something you want to be part of.”

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Hurling and camogie