By Niall Gartland
DOWN boss Ronan Sheehan says they’ve adopted a stoic approach to their league opener against Offaly in Sunday’s Division 2A opener.
The Leinster side are new to the second-tier following last year’s relegation, but Sheehan is more conscious about the departure of some Down stalwarts, some temporary and some permanent, and what that could mean for their overall league aspirations.
The Down hurlers reached last year’s Division 2A final, but this time around survival is the overarching ambition. Conor Woods and Michael Hughes have retired, Eoghan Sands won’t be back until the championship, Daithi Sands is unavailable for the early part of the league and Donal Hughes is in Australia and will miss the entirety of the season.
There are some really talented players coming through the ranks like Niall McFarland, Tom McGrattan and Tim Prenter, but Sheehan says consolidation is the main aim for the league.
“It’s a tough assignment to start of with. Offaly will be everyone’s favourites to get promoted and we’re just finding our feet at the moment. We’ll be targetting the Joe McDonagh Cup more than the league as we’ll have more of our players available at that point.
“We don’t want to complain as everyone’s in the same boat with players away travelling, it’s probably the overhang of the pandemic.
“We won’t be getting carried away one way or the other no matter what happens against Offaly. We’ll be hoping for a repeat of our performance against Offaly last year and we’ll see where that takes us [Offaly claimed a 1-26 to 2-18 victory in an entertaining Joe McDonagh Cup encounter in Ballycran).
On the retirement of Conor Woods, who mulled over the decision over the winter before taking the final decision to hang up the hurl ahead of the league, Sheehan said: “Conor has decided to retire, he was in two minds for a period of time, but he decided he just wasn’t able to make it work with two young twins in the house. You have to respect his decision, he owes Down hurling nothing and has been a great servant.”
In the backroom team, Cork legend Diarmuid O’Sullivan has returned to the fold to lend his considerable experience to matters (he was previously involved with the Ardsmen in 2019 before joining Kieran Kingston’s Cork backroom team). Tipperary native Barry Mullane has also linked in with the panel.
“Barry is on board with us, he’s a very good coach – very much a games-based coach and he’s gelling in well. We came back relatively late, in the middle of December, to give the boys a break so it’ll take a bit of time for things to unfold, we’re trying to peak for the Joe McDonagh Cup.
“Diarmuid is a personal friend and has been up here quite a bit. His experience on the sideline and in the dressing room is a massive asset to us.
“The younger lads are leeching off his experience and hopefully in the coming weeks we’ll see his and Barry’s imprint on proceedings.”