Hurling & Camogie

Sands leaves behind New York state of mind ahead of Down decider

Daithi Sands celebrates after hitting the net in Portaferry's semi-final win over Ballygalget. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Daithi Sands celebrates after hitting the net in Portaferry's semi-final win over Ballygalget. Picture by Seamus Loughran Daithi Sands celebrates after hitting the net in Portaferry's semi-final win over Ballygalget. Picture by Seamus Loughran

Morgan Fuels Down SHC final: Ballycran v Portaferry (Sunday, Pairc Esler, 4pm)

IT’S a long way from Portaferry to 34th street in downtown Manhattan.

There were times, during a three month work posting at the start of the year, that Daithi Sands would have to stop and take a breath, such was the madness of everyday life in the Big Apple.

It was different from his last experience of the US, a placement year in New Jersey that coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic - hardly the ideal time to be working for a company selling tours to Ireland.

“There were a lot of cancellations to deal with,” he smiles, “you can imagine some of the pleasant calls we were getting…”

New York was all go from minute one.

From the sleepy surrounds of home, where hurling commands so much time and dominates so many conversations, the change of pace was a bolt from the blue.


  • Bigger days ahead as Ballycran edge Portaferry battle
  • Blair on the spot as Portaferry claim Down crown

“That’s one way to put it.

“I did love it to be fair. I wanted to see if it was somewhere if I could see myself, and that was the perfect opportunity… it is mental, but I loved the fast pace, the energy. Work hard, play hard.

“After three months though, I was nearly burnt out from work. I’d no hurling, it was all focused on work, long hours, up early the next day then make the most of your time off… it’s just constant, on the go.

“By the end I was like ‘right, I do like it but I don’t know if it’s somewhere I could live’.”

The American dream can be hard to sustain and, back on terra firma, a balance can at least be struck despite operating across timezones.

Since starting a graduate programme with Options IT last year, Sands works US hours three nights – 12pm-9pm – with normal starts the other days allowing time to pursue his passion on the field.

He arrived home at the tail end of Down’s National League campaign and, after playing in the Joe McDonagh Cup, has helped spearhead Portaferry’s defence of the Jeremiah McVeagh Cup – with Sunday’s final against Ballycran deciding where the trophy will reside for the next 12 months.

The love for the caman code is back but, as Sands admits, he was only too happy to get away after last year’s Ulster semi-final defeat to Slaughtneil.

“With this company there is a lot of travel opportunity, a lot of ones were heading off in August but with hurling, I couldn’t. I was putting it off, then after the Slaughtneil match I was able to go.

“At the time I was looking a break because I’d played for Jordanstown at the end of 2021/start of 22, so I’d pretty much been on the go for 18 months solid.

“I felt like I was ready for a break from hurling for a bit… I didn’t even bring the sticks with me because I was that fed up, but then you go out for five or six weeks and you’re wondering why you didn’t.

“It turns out there’s not much happening up in the Bronx and Woodlawn in December/January.”

Sands could well be New York-bound again later this year, depending on how Portaferry fare in Newry on Sunday, as they eye up another crack at Ulster at the expense of their Ards rivals. But that is a conversation for another day.

The elongated round-robin system that got under way in mid-August and rumbles on for longer than required, the potential condition of the Pairc Esler pitch after hosting the Shinty international and intermediate hurling final the day before, with torrential downpours predicted, and the familiarity of the same final pairing for the sixth year in succession.

All those matters are up for discussion but, at times, a dose of perspective brings the closeness of communities into sharper focus.

The shocking loss of cherished Irish News colleague Dawn Egan – wife of Ballycran chairman Mark, father of player Chris - served as a stark reminder of what truly matters in life, far from the field of play.

“That kind of news just takes you back… it’s so sad,” said Sands.

“It really puts things in perspective, and becomes all you can really think about then. Regardless of what way Sunday turns out, the significance of it is lost a wee bit. I’ve played with and against Chrissy for years, and I really feel for him and his family at such a tough time.

“There are much more important things than hurling.”