National Hurling League Division 2B
Derry v Down
Sunday, Celtic Park, 2pm
Ronan Sheehan said that he is expecting Derry’s hurlers to be at full strength on Sunday in the National League opener.
There was some doubt as to whether the Oak Leafers would have their Sleacht Néill contingent available to them after the Robert Emmett’s club run to the All-Ireland semi-final ended in defeat to Ballyhale Shamrocks three weeks ago.
However the Down boss expects those players, the likes of Gerald Bradley, Cormac O’Doherty and Se McGuigan to be ready to take their part in the league opener.
“We are expecting a strong Derry team. We will be expecting them to have the Sleacht Néill boys who are coming off the back of a fantastic year.
“This is a massive game for us.
“But it is a massive game for Derry too.
“If you win on Sunday then you are in a great position. But if you lose then you are playing catch up.
“We both would have ambitions of getting out of this division.”
Sheehan says that he wants to build on the work of last year, though he said there’s unlikely to be any major changes.
“We had a successful year in terms of the panel coming together.
“This year we will have Pearse Og McCrickard from the start.
“Danny Toner and John McManus came in during the Christy Ring last year, but we will have them for the start of the league.
“They will feature heavily this year.
“But the team shouldn’t change too much.”
Expect to see Caolan Taggart lining out at full back, and Eoghan Sands at full forward as usual.
“That continuity is important,” Sheehan said.
What will develop is how Down play.
Sheehan said that the county are working on their style.
“Down was traditionally a physical team, when Magic (Johnson) was playing.
“We are a smaller team so we have to play a different style. We have to get the ball to hand, and play to space. It’s about retention of the ball. Maybe not as much as Gaelic Football, but we have to play to the hand.
“It takes two or three years to get that system to bed in.”
Down’s preparations for the league included a run in the Conor McGurk Cup and the Kehoe Cup. Unfortunately they lost to Antrim in the McGurk Cup final, which doubled as the Kehoe Cup semi-final after some jiggery pokery by the Leinster GAA who didn’t see the need to repeat up fixtures over the winter.
“We would be relatively happy with how things have gone (in the pre season).
“We had a good set of pre season games. We would be a bit disappointed with how the Antrim game finished. We were a lot better than the score at the end. Outside of that result we were really good.”
The positive for Sheehan was that he was able to give game time to a lot of his players. The likes of Niall McFarlane who is 19, Ryan McCusker and PJ Davidson, were able to taste some competitive action.
“They have done really well,” Sheehan said.
“Pearse Og McCrickard has come back in. We have got a settled panel now as opposed to a settled team.
“And we have got a competitive squad. Everyone is really pushing hard for places. I would say that we are stronger than last year.”
Competition for places is also coming from outside the Ards peninsula.
Sheehan said that the county is still a long way away from having an even balance across clubs. The Ards lads are still the dominant contingent. Yet other clubs are growing.
Bredagh, Carryduff, Liatroim and the Newry Shamrocks are supplying a good group of players to the county.
“It is a good thing. It is positive. But the Ards clubs of Ballygalget, Ballycran and Portaferry still make up the bulk of the team.”