Sheehan’s side in good shape ahead of Royal meeting

By Niall Gartland

THE Down hurlers are set to embark on their fourth year of Joe McDonagh hurling when they host Meath at Ballycran this Saturday.

Ronan Sheehan’s side achieved promotion to the second tier All-Ireland competition back in 2020 by virtue of reaching the Christy Ring final, where they fell short against Kildare.

Since then they haven’t really threatened to reach a Joe McDonagh final, but they have done enough to stay afloat and they’ll be hopeful of another useful campaign, especially as they have a number of key men returning from injury.

Down did extremely well in Division 2A, finishing third in the table and losing out to Laois in a league semi-final on a scoreline of 1-24 to 0-13.

Missing that day due to injury were Tom McGrattan and John McManus, two men who are expected to feature on Saturday, while Tim Prenter and Danny Toner should also be fine to play having recovered from recent knocks.

In attack, Down will look to the likes of dual star Pearse Óg McCrickard and Sands brothers, Daithi and Eoghan, to carry the fight to Meath, while Caolan Taggart, Matt Conlon and Liam Savage have been in stellar form at the back.

It was just over a month ago that these two sides last met each other, Down clinching a Division 2A victory on a scoreline of 3-19 to 1-16. Daithi Sands contributed an impressive total of 3-3 while McCrickard was also on song, weighing in with eight points.

Meath haven’t had a fruitful season to date, finishing bottom of the table and winning only one of their five matches.

Manager Seoirse Bulfin stepped down at the end of their campaign, citing “personal and family commitments” as his reason for doing so. He spent just over a year at the helm, leading Meath to last year’s Division 2A and Christy Ring titles, but they struggled to make their mark in the higher tier at league level and it remains to be seen how they’ll fare in the Joe McDonagh.

There was further turbulence with another resignation hot on the heels of Bulfin’s decision to step down. The county’s chair of the hurling development committee and Leinster Council delegate, Martin O’Halloran announced his resignation late last month, and on the whole it doesn’t paint a particularly rosy picture for the Royal County ahead of their championship campaign.

They’ve also suffered a drop-off in playing personnel with many key hurlers ruling themselves out this year, so on the whole you’d have to say this is Down’s to lose this Saturday at Ballycran.

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