Down hoping to get off the Laois

By Michael McMullan

DOWN are fully aware of the reward for beating Laois on Saturday, insists Eoghan Sands.

Before a ball was pucked this season and in light of the new format for the National League in 2025, the Down camp targeted a league final.

The winners from Saturday will not only play Carlow in the final, more importantly, they’ll join Dublin, Westmeath, Waterford, Antrim, Carlow and Offaly in Division 1B next season.

Away from the hurling field, it has been a busy few days for Sands.

Working from home in Portaferry for American telecoms company Ciena constitutes a normal working week.

He was on a client site in Stockholm before jetting back for Saturday’s showdown in Portlaoise.

However, after Thursday’s unsuccessful appeal to have his red card from the win over Meath rescinded, the Portaferry man won’t be in Ronan Sheehan’s plans on Saturday.

Speaking to Gaelic Life, earlier in the week, Sand cast his mind back to their 2-18 to 0-17 defeat at the hands of Laois in their first game of the year.

Laois debutant Jer Quinlan hit 1-3. Down had Marc Fisher sent off. Matt Conlon picked up an injury. Sands damaged his wrist with promising youngster Finn Turpin breaking a thumb.

“We played very well but picked up a few injuries,” Sands recalls, hinting at a Down camp still juggling injuries.

“Laois have got a lot better since that day, looking from their last couple of results. They seem to be firing a bit more and putting up big scores.

“It will be a tough test to go down to them but we have had a few good results ourselves so hopefully we are in a better place.

“There is more at stake with the two teams going up, this game is massive,” Sands added.

Like Donegal manager Mickey McCann and Derry boss Johnny McGarvey in recent weeks, Sands welcomes the new structure that offers five divisions of seven teams.

“It will be a good competitive league and the standard we want to be playing at,” he said of the prospect of playing in Division 1B.

In terms of magnitude, Sands places Saturday’s game beside their 2020 Christy Ring Cup semi-final win over Offaly. Despite losing the decider to Kildare, Down were promoted to the Joe McDonagh Cup and haven’t looked back.

“I see this game being quite similar, like a launchpad for the future,” Sands adds. “Laois are a top side and it is going to be a tough ask.”

Down set their targets higher this year. Ronan Sheehan and his management established that they needed to boost their scoring target from 0-25 to 0-27 based on an increase in winning tallies.

Coach Trevor Fletcher, a Tipperary native with playing and coaching experience in Offaly, separated Down’s scoring zone from the pot shot areas.

At the other end of the field, dropping off players just invited scoring from long-range.

“If you give a man space from anywhere inside 70 yards then he is capable of knocking it over the bar,” Sands added.

Down targeted winning their three home games. Six points was the magic number to grab a golden semi-final spot. It gave them a puncher’s chance of promotion in a one-off game.

In the end, Down had to settle for five points after a draw at home to Kildare. They were a missed penalty away from victory but two Stephen Keith penalty saves away from a defeat that would’ve dashed their hopes.

Down, with an average of 25 points a game, pipped Kildare (23 per game) to third spot on score difference.

Now the slate is clean.

The only numbers that count will be on the O’Moore Park scoreboard. Sands will only be able to sit, watch and hope Down have the shooting efficiency needed to prevail.

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW