Down hurlers are ready for trip to the Kingdom

By Niall Gartland

DOWN hurling boss Ronan Sheehan (pictured) hopes that his side can take a massive step towards Joe McDonagh Cup survival – and possibly more – when they venture to the deep south for their round two match against Kerry this Sunday.

Sheehan’s side got their campaign off to a winning start with victory over Meath last weekend, a result that could already prove sufficient to avoid demotion to the Nickey Rackard depending on how the Royals fare over the coming weeks.

They take on Kerry in their second round clash and it could be a real thriller going by previous meetings of the two teams, and Sheehan has ticked every box to ensure the big trip to the Kingdom doesn’t take too much out of his team.

“We’ll leave Portaferry on Saturday at 1pm. We’ll stop for food and it’ll be 8.30pm by the time we get to Killarney. It’s a long trip and we’re going to stay overnight as it suits us better.

“The morning of the match can be a nightmare because boys don’t sleep that well in hotel rooms, then they’re trying to kill a few hours. Our game’s in Tralee but we’ve decided to stay in Killarney as that’ll take 45 minutes in a bus. It’s not long enough that it’ll impact on the legs in any way but it’ll break up the morning as the lads will no doubt be up early.

“There’s nothing usually between Kerry and Down. We had the upper hand this year in the league and they beat us well in Ballycran in last year’s Joe McDonagh but if you look back at the last six or seven meetings it’s been relatively even, there’s rarely any more than three or four points between the teams.”

Both teams will be in good form after clinching wins in the opening round of fixtures. Down were full value for their 3-24 to 0-25 victory over Meath, and there’s good news on the injury front as John McManus, Danny Toner and Tom McGrattan, none of whom played a minute against Meath, are all in contention for selection this weekend. Pearse Óg McCrickard had been injured but got a bit of game-time as well so it’s no surprise that Sheehan is hopeful about their Joe McDonagh prospects.

“For a county like Down in the Joe McDonagh Cup, your first priority is always going to be to get safety as quickly as possible. We took a massive step towards that on Saturday as we now have the head-to-head over Meath. We’ll be going into the match against Kerry on a real high, as will Kerry to be fair after their great win in Westmeath.

“It shows you the nature of the competition because everyone would have fancied Westmeath to win that game and Kerry sprang a surprise. It’s a great competition and we’re delighted to be in it and Saturday was massive in terms of taking a big step towards at least securing our status as it’s a big thing for Down.”

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