By Niall McCoy
DOWN hurler Paul Sheehan believes that the county are producing one of the most exciting crop of youngsters to come through the system in a very long time.
Ronan Sheehan’s side face Roscommon in Inniskeen on Saturday for a spot in the Christy Ring Cup final, and given the age profile of the squad that would be quite the achievement.
Players like Phelim Savage, Tim Prenter, Tom Murray and Ronan Blair are already making their mark, and Sheehan is in no doubt that the future is bright.
“I think someone said that the average age of the team is 23,” Sheehan said.
“If you were in the dressing room you’d know all about it because they are absolutely bonkers those young lads. They make me feel old and I’m only 28.
“The likes of the Celtic Challenge, a lot of the boys breaking into the team won an All-Ireland in that competition.
“They actually had the likes of Ronan, Niall Coulter, ‘Gazza’ (Gary Savage), Mick Blair as mentors. Paul Coulter did a lot of good work too.
“They have been playing against good quality players from development squads the whole way up. It has stood to them and now they’re pushing us at training and you just have to look at who is doing the scoring on our team.
“They are a product of the hard work being done by development coaches and the county board to promote hurling.”
Down may have played in a division above Roscommon in the league this year, but they would be foolish to underestimate a side that eventually earned promotion up to Division 2B.
Sheehan, for his part, is certainly giving the Connacht outfit all the respect that they deserve.
“Any semi-final you play is going to be tough,” he said. “We played Roscommon in the Christy Ring a few years ago in Ballycran and it was a very tight game.
“They are always big and physical and have good ball winners in the half-forward line.
“They are good when it comes to the breaks too.”
Sheehan scored seven points in last week’s facile win over Donegal with the side finding the net an incredible seven times in a 22-point victory.
His participation had been in doubt after he injured himself against Wicklow the previous week, but he was given clearance to feature.
“Against Wicklow I got a bit of a dead leg after 20 minutes or so.
“I was effectively out of training bar the last session before the Donegal game but Grainne (Murray) is first class and everything she says is Gospel so I was alright to play. I don’t think the scoreline reflected the sort of game it was. It was a tough game and Donegal are a good side.
“Boys like Danny Cullen are brilliant hurlers but we knew that we needed to win to qualify and we wanted to make sure score difference was on our side in case it came down to that.
“We created goal chances and we took them. I wouldn’t say it’s confidence building or anything like that, it was just a game we had to win and thankfully we did that.”