Christy Ring Cup semi-final
Down v Offaly
Saturday, Pairc Esler Newry, 1.30pm
CONVERSION rates will be key to Down springing a Christy Ring shock this weekend.
The Ards men face an incredible test against Offaly on Saturday. Offaly dropped down from the Joe McDonagh Cup after getting relegated last year, but are favourites to make a quick return by reaching the Christy Ring Cup final. They did not gain promotion back to Division One as they were pipped by Antrim, so their focus will be fully on this Christy Ring tournament.
Down will be underdogs of course, but the Ardsmen have been in fantastic form this year. They defeated old rivals Derry in the National League Division 2B final to gain promotion to 2A. Then they followed that result up with another win over Derry in the Christy Ring.
The size of the challenge has increased though as Offaly will be very hard to beat.
Down manager Ronan Sheehan said: “It will be a massive challenge. Offaly are raging hot favourites for the Christy Ring. They have come down to this level after getting relegated last year. We got the hard side of the draw when we drew them.”
Of course, it was clear to every team in the Christy Ring that they would have to play Offaly at some point. It is just that Sheehan sort of expected that it might have been in the final. Instead, due to Kildare pulling out of the first round, Offaly’s course to the final was directed towards Down in this semi-final.
“We played them in the Keogh Cup and we had a goal disallowed. So we didn’t do too badly. (Down lost 2-18 to 1-24).
“In 2019 Offaly were playing in Division One against Dublin and Galway, so they have massive Liam MacCarthy experience. They are the favourites but we will want to be competitive.
“If we are being realistic then we are going there to maximise our performance.
“Eight times out of 10 Offaly will win the game. But we want to create a situation where this game is one of those two other times.”
In order for Down to be competitive Sheehan is very clear about what they have to do.
“We believe that if we perform to our very maximum then we have a good chance.
“We will be going out to play to win the match. In order to do that then we have to maximise our chances.
“We have been focused on our game plan, and that is to us the ball well and to get the ball into the right areas. We have to make sure that we are taking our opportunities.”
One of the ways that manager Sheehan and his coaching team have been working on that area is to look at the numbers. Sheehan understands that the statistics have to be right for a team like Down to beat a team like Offaly.
“We are looking at our conversion rates. We have been creating the chances, there is no problem there. I think you look at previous games we have been creating 35 to 40 chances. If we can convert something like two thirds of those chances then that would be good.
“If you look at the teams playing at the higher levels, then that the higher up you go the higher the conversion rate.”
So if they are able to hit a high conversion rate on Saturday then perhaps Down’s positive run could continue even further.
Down boss Sheehan had some positive news to report about his team.
They will have John McManus back involved after a period on the sidelines due to injury. Gerard Hughes has a slight chance of taking part. Sheehan said they are going to give him up to Saturday morning before they make a call as to whether he is fit enough to take part. Chris Egan is back and fit, as is Paul Sheehan. The one player who definitely won’t take part, and who is a huge loss, is Danny Toner. His knee issue will rule him out until some point next year.
“Training has been going well. There was a lot of confidence taken from the league final. We would not have dug out that result in the past.”
Sheehan is referring to Down’s battling win over Derry in the league final. Down had led at half time but withstood a second-half fightback from the Oak Leafers to secure a win.
They will no doubt have to dig deep again this weekend.
But. as Sheehan said. a maximum performance and a good conversion rate could make for an exciting weekend of hurling.