Down boss delighted with Richie McElligott Cup success

By Michael McMullan

IT was a weekend to remember at Croke Park for Down hurling with their u-20s winning a second All-Ireland B title in three seasons.

For manager Connor O’Prey, it was a satisfying way to finish the season and lays another layer of concrete on the county’s foundations.

“You only get to enjoy the occasion really if the result favours you,” he said. “Thankfully that was the case and we were able to really enjoy it afterwards.”

While four of the squad have experience of the senior hurling, of the Down starting team in their u-20 final win over Roscommon, nine are back with the u-20s next year with two thirds of the panel still underage.

“There’s the core group will still be there next year,” said O’Prey who would be in favour of a return to the Ulster round-robin format.

This season, Down lost to Derry without a second chance in Ulster. Before that, there were four teams with barely the puck of a ball between them.

“It went back to just a semi-final and then a final which I don’t think is ideal for the progression of Ulster.”

In Saturday’s 0-20 to 0-11 win over the Rossies, the Down boss felt his side lost their structure during a “nip and tuck” first half.

The other concern was their conversion rate and their shot selection. He watched on as his side peppered shots wide from difficult angles.

It took 30 minutes to fully realise they were in Croke Park and the magnitude of the game. Half time allowed time to reset.

“We told the boys to get it out of the system, to implement our style and fall back into our structure and show everyone that we’re a good team,” O’Prey said of the key message,

“From the first ball thrown in, away they went for 30 minutes and the boys just didn’t stop and I think nine points was a good comprehensive win.”

Ben Christie hit six points and showed why he has been around the senior squad. Noah Rogers and Michael Dorrian were also on song.

“Finn Turpin, who started for the seniors, scored two or three points,” O’Prey added. “With his contribution from general play, you could tell he was a senior hurler.

“Shea Pucci at centre back, Leigh Morgan a corner-back, they’re there for another two years and you would think that they’ve been playing seniors for a long time and that they haven’t. They are still playing club minor hurling.”

The group had a mixture of ages and it was a welcome boost to Down hurling on top of the senior team securing Joe McDonagh hurling for a fifth season. O’Prey commented on the satisfaction of having a senior team not worrying about relegation on the last weekend. Now it’s about building on the progress.

“Their performances in the league this year have been really good,” he said. “Down have a really good age group of players.

“If they can get three or four more of the u-20s to go in just even into the squad with them next year, I think it’s in a really healthy place for us and u-20 lads will benefit from that too.”

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