Down NHL Preview: Down are on top

By Niall McCoy

DOWN’S season may have ended in disappointment with defeat in the Christy Ring Cup final against Kildare last November, but overall it was a very progressive campaign for Ronan Sheehan’s side.

The Newry Shamrocks’ clubman is back on board for another year and they will operate in Division 2A after their 2020 promotion.

The side actually started poorly as Derry’s Cormac O’Doherty punished every foul in a 1-19 to 0-19 defeat, but they really were outstanding from there.

They hit 3-23, 3-22 and 2-28 in big wins over Roscommon, Warwickshire and London, while they showed their battling qualities in their round five clash with Kildare.

The scenario was simple in Castlewellan; win and they would be in the final. They managed that, and Derry’s draw with the Lilywhites a week later was enough to secure an all-Ulster final.

Eoghan Sands and Danny Toner were excellent in the March win over Kildare, with the side responding to a slow start to secure a 0-19 to 1-14 win.

Then the pandemic struck and doubts set in about whether or not the final would ever be played. It was, but seven months after Down’s last league game.

The Athletic Grounds hosted the meeting of Down and Derry, and Sheehan’s men took the title – and promotion – with a 2-16 to 0-17 win, Sands and Pearse Óg McCrickard both contributing 1-2.

Promotion to the Joe McDonagh Cup followed despite their defeat to Kildare.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the season was their semi-final win over Offaly as they won the first-ever hurling penalty shoot-out. A sure sign that they can perform at a higher level.

They will carry the confidence of a fine 2020 into the exciting new campaign that awaits them.

A tough beginning 

JUST like in the upcoming Joe McDonagh Cup, Down’s league season will start with a trip to Kerry. A home match with Carlow follows in round two and cements a very hard start.

In reality, any points would be a bonus in those two games, but they are unlikely to be walked over either. Meath, Offaly and Wicklow are where they will really be targeting points – even if the Garden county have proven to be something of a bogey team for them over the years (Down have turned the tide in recent meetings).

Talented dual player Ruairi Campebll is back in the squad while young players like Ciaran Watson (Ballygalget), Paudie Doran and Ronan Blair (both Portaferry) and Bredagh’s Matt McAreavey will bring some fresh legs to the squad.

Danny Toner is still injured while it remains to be seen whether or not Ruairi McCrickard can commit for the season ahead.

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