By Odhrán Crumley
THE battle for a spot in the last four of the Christy Ring Cup comes down to the final round of fixtures – and that is something that is starting to become the norm.
Last year, the calculators were needed as a late Cormac O’Doherty free against Down took Derry through in place of the Ardsmen by virtue of a solitary point.
The rules dictate that if two teams are locked on the same amount of points then head-to-head is used as a tie-breaker. If three teams are deadlocked on the same amount of points then score difference is used to separate the sides.
Derry, Down and London all finished on four points in Group Two last year. Group one could end up with a similar situation with Down, Wicklow and Donegal possibly all finishing on two points if results go a certain way while Derry, Down and Wicklow could also all end up on four points.
Down boss Ronan Sheehan wasn’t in charge when last year’s late drama unfolded, but he wouldn’t be surprised if there is a repeat this time around.
“We could very easily end up with a scenario like Derry and London last year where the calculators had to be used,” he said.
“Our main focus is on getting the two points and then if needed, we will worry about scoring difference then.
“Going to play Donegal, especially away, is always a tough battle and it would be remiss of us to take it as anything else.”
If Derry beat Wicklow, a five-point win for Donegal would be good enough to take them through, and Sheehan is wary of their threat.
“Last year Donegal beat us in the league and if we needed a reminder to what they’re capable of that was it.
“However, I have to reiterate that we can only control what is in our hands and that is to go out and win the game and get the two points to give us the best possible chance of advancing.
“After that, the result in the Derry and Wicklow game and the scoring difference is in the lap of the Gods.”
A quick scan of Christy Ring Cup results over the last number of years leaves it plain to be seen just how competitive the competition is.
“It is extremely competitive in the Christy Ring Cup,” Sheehan continued.
“I was talking to Johnny McGurk at the Derry and Donegal game in Owenbeg and that was the main point we were making. Any team can beat any team on any given day and that is both the beauty and the danger of it.”
Down busted the group wide over with a surprise win in Wicklow in their last outing.
Not many had given Sheehan’s charges a chance but the manager had said that they had taken plenty of positives from their opening-round loss to Derry when poor shooting let them down.
“Against Derry, even though we were beaten we feel the scoreboard didn’t exactly reflect the game.
“From the 42 scoring chances we created we only took 16 and although that was a cause for concern we can also look at it as a positive.
“If we can improve our score-taking efficiency then we will give ourselves a very good chance of winning.
“This is why we took so much confidence heading down to Wicklow, despite being the underdog we knew we had a good chance and we came out of there with the win.
“Now, heading to Donegal on Saturday we are under no illusions at the scale of the task at hand.”
Sheehan was keen to emphasise just how tight the margins were in Donegal’s two losses thus far, meaning his side will need to bring their A-Game to take those vital two points.
“People will look at Donegal and see that they were relegated from the league and that they are yet to win a game thus far, but they have been extremely unlucky in some occasions.
“It is not like they have been receiving hammerings or trimmings, all of their games have been close.
“If we can recreate our performance of last time out and keep our score-taking efficiency up then we would be hopeful of picking up the two points and then seeing where that takes us.”