CONOR Woods’s Down debut came against Meath all the way back in 2008, and as he watched the county face the Royals in last year’s Christy Ring Cup final, he wondered would he ever get the chance to experience another big day like that.
Hip problems had left his inter-county career in doubt and for two seasons he had been away from the camp having been one of the standout names for Down hurling over the previous decade.
But manager Ronan Sheehan opened the door again this season and Woods is back hurling as Down try to make up for last year’s defeat to Meath when they face Kildare at Croke Park on Sunday.
“Last year I wasn’t on the panel, I didn’t play for two seasons really,” said the Ballycran defender. “I had bother with my hip and I had to take some time out to get it sorted.
“Luckily enough Ronan asked me back onto the panel at the start of the year so I’m there again and it’s another chance to get out onto Croke Park. It’s always nice to get a return for the long nights you put in during January and February.
“Whenever I was with the minors, Ronan was a selector so when he got involved with the seniors I knew that the team would have been in good hands. I knew I would have enjoyed working with him and I was disappointed that I didn’t get that chance last year.
“They did so well to get to the Christy Ring final and you’re obviously wishing them all the best, but part of you is saying ‘I could have been out there.’”
Woods now has the chance though. Last weekend’s thrilling win over Offaly has not only secured a place in the final, but also a spot in next year’s Joe McDonagh Cup.
The Faithful were almost unbackable favourites at Páirc Esler but after a thrilling 80 minutes – and the first penalty shoot-out in championship history – Down recorded one of their most famous wins of modern times.
It guarantees higher level hurling in 2021, but Woods says that going up as champions would add so much more to the season.
“We are going into 2A because we won 2B and we want to be going into the McDonagh Cup as winners,” Woods said.
“We will go all guns blazing against Kildare, we will really be going for it.”
Sheehan’s impact on Down hurling has been excellent.
At club level, he took Newry Shamrocks to the Ulster Junior final last year – whilst playing in nets – while Down collected the Division 2B title earlier this year to go along with these back-to-back Ring final appearances.
Woods believes that the fact that he isn’t from one of the Ards clubs may give him an advantage as he cannot be accused of nepotism when selecting from Ballycran, Portaferry and Ballygalget.
“It’s a massive advantage for him to stand on the outside,” said Woods.
“Over the year there are managers from the Ards clubs and it’s not that they were ever favouring anyone, but you would have heard remarks from people on the outside.
“Ronan can stand above all that and he doesn’t need to get involved, which is brilliant.”
By Niall McCoy