By Shaun Casey
DOWN’S 2022 intermediate champions Saval have endured a frustrating season to date but make their return to the top tier this weekend as they take on Glenn.
The loss of a number of key men has hindered their campaign and boss Danny Hughes (right), an All-Star winner with Down in 2010, explains the difficulties they’ve faced.
“Given last year’s win in the Intermediate Championship, I thought we were in good shape, we were progressing well but obviously this year has been very, very tough. We have nine or ten missing from the championship winning team with emigration work and retirements.” said Hughes, who has put his name forward for the vacant Cavan position.
“It’s been very difficult. Sometimes that happens when teams win something, they lose that wee bit of motivation so to speak and I think given the demographics of our team, the experience of our team, we had a lot of older men there last year that we got a lot out of.
“We managed to keep players at home as well and unfortunately it just ended up the perfect storm this year and through injuries and emigration and everything else, it’s been a very difficult and frustrating time.”
Due to lack of numbers, Hughes has had to pull on the boots and return to playing. “Needs must and that’s the truth,” added the former Down forward.
“It’s not that I hugely wanted to come back, it’s because I had to. I’m enjoying it, but sideline duties are really left to Gavin Traynor and Stephen Kearney. In-game management has been left to them and I have to contribute as much as the rest of the players.”
Things only went from bad to worse with Down full-forward Pat Havern returned to the fold as the versatile target man picked up an injury that will keep him out this weekend and possibly for the remainder of the season.
“Pat got injured in his first league game back after 20 minutes, he hurt his shoulder and he hasn’t played since. I don’t think Pat’s going to be available for us throughout the championship.
“We really only had Pat for 20 minutes this year and his shoulder is getting looked at by different people, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to play any part. The Down physios, I think they’re reluctant to allow him to play as well, they’re looking down the line.”
Saval lost out to Glenn in the final round of the league, 2-4 to 0-15, but Hughes isn’t putting too much stock into that result and believes championship is a different ball game.
“I’ve been in Saval teams in the past where we’ve had difficult league campaigns and we’ve performed okay in the Senior Championship.
“A couple of years ago after a frustrating league campaign, we ended up beating Clonduff after extra time in the first round of the championship.
“While it’s frustrating this year, championship’s championship and definitely you see characters stepping up in these games and I hope that would be the same this weekend.”