DOWN manager Ronan Sheehan is planning to field a mixture of youth and experience in the Conor McGurk Cup as he hopes to spot some fresh talent ahead of their upcoming Division 2A league campaign, which kicks off in early February against Laois.
The Mourne men will be minus the services of stalwart Paul Sheehan, who has recently retired from inter-county hurling, while Ryan McCusker, Jordan Doran and Stuart Martin are all off to Australia.
Down take on Louth in the Conor McGurk Cup quarter-final this Saturday, while they will also field a team in the Kehoe Cup, Leinster’s preseason competition, where they’ll face Meath in the opening round on January 14th.
“It’s hard to beat competitive matches even if they are preseason competitions so boys are looking forward to it,” said Sheehan, looking ahead to the new season. “We’ll use our panel in the Conor McGurk Cup as much as we can, we’ll even use some the u20s as well.
“I think for Saturday’s match, we’ll use half u20s and half of our more established panel because we’re also playing in the Kehoe Cup as well, so we’ve got a couple of competing interests.
“We’re trying to give everybody as many matches as we can but we’re also trying to see if some of the u20s can step up and see how they’d get on if they were in that environment on a more regular basis.
“At the end of the day, if a young fella is going to struggle in the likes of the Conor McGurk Cup, then he’s going to really find it difficult in Division 2A, so you’d don’t throw a player into 2A straight away, you have to give them an opportunity to build themselves up.
“That’s what we’re doing here, we’ll have a look at them here in the Conor McGurk Cup, those that impress in the Kehoe Cup as well will get a chance in the National League but it’s all a learning process for them. It’s good to have these competitions.”
Louth overcame an understrength Monaghan team on Tuesday night in the opening round of the Conor McGurk Cup and as Down will be giving plenty game time to their youngsters, Sheehan is expecting a fairly competitive contest.
Goals from James Costello and John Casey, split by the half time break, helped the Wee County earn a 16-point victory. Sheehan however will be more concerned about the performance of his side, rather than the actual outcome.
“I think if we were to play our full squad then that would mean that it would be a wee bit uneven but the fact that we’re playing a mixture of our u20s and our senior panel, then that will make it a very competitive game,” added Sheehan.
“I think if we look at the first round matches in the context that none of the Castleblayney lads played for Monaghan at all and that would be the core of their team so you can’t look too much into preseason results to be honest.
“You always have to keep an eye on what sort of a team lined out but any team that scored 2-20 means that they’re going fairly well and one thing they definitely will be, if Trevor Hilliard is looking after them, they’ll be competitive.
“They’ll be aggressive on and off the ball so more than anything else, we’re looking forward to just getting back on the grass and getting a match under our belts and hopefully getting a good performance, results at this time of the year are probably a wee bit irrelevant.”