By Kieran Lynch
DOWN have won two games from two in the McGurk Cup, but manager Ronan Sheehan says the competition is mostly about gaining fitness and trying out new players, ahead of the league campaign.
With the competition well underway, Sheehan explained how his team have approached it in terms of getting the team up to speed before the league, which they couldn’t do in 2021 due to the shortened season.
“We’ve approached it from the perspective of just trying to get time into player’s legs,” said Sheehan.
“Last year, unfortunately because of the nature of the season and because of the way that the season was designed, it was very difficult to get a look at players, so lads that were on the fringes of the panel got very limited opportunities last year.
“So, this year we’re looking at pre-season as an opportunity to get a look at the whole panel and between the McGurk Cup and a few challenge matches, we’re hoping to have maybe seven games played before we play Carlow.
“Pre-season is pre-season, and we’re using it to build towards the game of the sixth of February, which is the first league game against Carlow.”
In terms of their performance to date, Down were made to sweat by Armagh, eventually winning by one point, before they dismantled Queen’s University 2-22 to 1-14.
“It’s been good to get game-time, and I’m pretty pleased with how we’ve played, particularly in the first half on both of those days,” said the Down manager.
“It was very positive how we used the ball and how we were moving. We probably just ran out of steam a little bit in the second half against Armagh, but we’re working with a small panel, because the college guys are with their college teams and the Ballycran lads aren’t back until next week.
“Outside of the last 10 minutes against Armagh, I would be very happy and comfortable with how we played.”
In terms of what Sheehan wants to see from his team in 2022, he says that he is looking to build upon a successful 2021 season, and while he is reserved in his predictions now, that could change depending on how well the team begins their National League campaign.
“Last year, we stayed up in the McDonagh and the National League, and 2021 would have been seen as a great year for us,” said Sheehan.
“To be honest, because the margins are so wafer-thin in both Division 2A and the McDonagh Cup, I think our priority remains maintaining our status in both.
“However, if you speak to me in three or four weeks’ time, after we have a couple of league games under our belt, I may well be changing my mind about that, and changing my ambitions.
“I think everybody in the division will be saying, ‘let’s get a couple of wins on the board and then we can look to see if we can push for promotion.’”
In last year’s McDonagh Cup campaign, Down came up short against Kerry 2-24 to 1-21, before beating Meath 1-27 to 2-16. Due to the tightness of the competition, Down missed out on the final, only on goals scored.
The Mourne men will meet both of those teams again in Division 2A this year, as well as Carlow, Kildare and Westmeath in what promises to be a highly competitive division.
“If you look at the games last year in the league and the McDonagh Cup, there is nothing between any of those teams, so the team that starts to look ahead of itself, could very quickly find itself in a relegation play-off.
“So, until we play our third game, which is against Kildare at home, we’re very much focused on staying up. After that, we’ll reassess, but up until that point we’re looking no further than game after game.”