By Shaun Casey
DOWN will be keen to bounce back from their 12-point defeat at the hands of Kerry last weekend when they travel to Portlaoise on Sunday for their Joe McDonagh Cup second round showdown against Laois.
Losing to the Kingdom is no disgrace, Kerry competed in the Joe McDonagh Cup final last year, losing to Antrim, but things don’t get any easier for Ronan Sheehan’s side.
While Laois suffered relegation to Division Two following a winless league campaign, and lost to Offaly last weekend, they’ve still been exposed to a higher level of hurling. Down’s league form wasn’t great either admittedly as they failed to win a single game.
Ruairi McCrickard, despite being an injury concern before the game, hit Down’s only goal in round one while his brother Pearse Og McCrickard top scored with 0-7.
Daithi Sands didn’t have the impact he’d have wanted but has the talent to cause the Laois defence problems.
The Christy Ring Cup begins with a bang with the all-Ulster clash of Tyrone and Derry, with both vying to get their championship campaigns off to a winning start.
Next year, both sides will compete in the same division following Derry’s relegation to Division 2B, 12 months on from their promotion from the same tier.
Tyrone finished mid-table and would have been delighted with their league displays that saw them earn victories over Wicklow and Sligo.
Derry, now under the new management of Johnny McGarvey, just missed out on the Christy Ring Cup decider last year, finishing third in the group, behind Mayo and eventual winners Kildare.
Tyrone on the other hand claimed silverware in Croke Park in 2022, easing to a 1-27 to 0-19 victory over Roscommon in the Nickey Rackard Cup final to earn their place in the Christy Ring competition this year. Both sides will be looking to avoid relegation, so Sunday’s clash will have a lot riding on it.
Donegal and Fermanagh kickstart the Nickey Rackard Cup this weekend, with Mickey Cullen’s Tir Chonaill men enjoying home advantage. They’ll also hold the favourites’ tag having played at a higher level than Fermanagh in the league this season.
Donegal reached the Division 2B league final, losing to Meath by six points in the decider, while Fermanagh were relegated to Division 3B on the final day, a one-point defeat to Armagh deciding their fate.
The Orchard County will also be aiming for Nickey Rackard Cup success but face a difficult away trip to Roscommon.
It’s a repeat of the recent Division 3A league final, which the Rossies won 2-17 to 0-15.
Division 3B league winners Cavan travel to Birmingham for the first round of the Lory Meagher Cup. They take on Warwickshire, a side they beat 2-20 to 2-9 in the league, so Ollie Bellew’s side will be big pre-match favourites.
Monaghan enjoyed a successful Division 3A league campaign, reaching the semi-finals, and they get their Lory Meagher Cup season underway with a home tie against Leitrim, the side Cavan beat by one point in the Division 3B league final.