This year’s Christy Ring finalists, Down, owe their success partly to the success of their sibling forward line, of Daithi and Eoghan Sands.
The Portaferry duo have been the focal point of the Ardsmen’s attack this season.
Manager Ronan Sheehan has transplanted the Portaferry attacking system to the county team. It is based upon swift delivery to the Portaferry duo, and it has delivered success. The duo scored two goals in their first half against Roscommon in the Christy Ring Cup semi-final.
Eoghan Sands explained the strategy.
“The system plays to our strengths. It is actually a similar system to the one we play with Portaferry.
“It is me and Daithi my brother playing as a two up front. We have been playing together forever. He knows where I am at, and I knows where he is at.
“I think work rate is also very important.”
But Down are no two-man team. They have plenty of classy players like Paul Sheehan, Caolan Taggart and John McManus in their number.
It is an improved defensive formation that has helped them progress.
Sands said that discipline, and making sure they are controlled in the tackle, is another facet that they have improved upon this year.
Ronan Sheehan, who is originally from Cork, has been using Diarmuid O’Sullivan’s hurling knowledge to help him. He sends the videos down to the Rock, who then comes up and outlines to the team what they need to change.
One of them was how they should handle discipline.
“We were giving away sloppy frees,” Sands said.
“We have worked on that, and improved our tackling a lot.
“Having someone like that (Diarmuid O’Sullivan) is a great help. He played for Cork, and won All-Irelands. Down have not had that high level of person coming in to speak to them. For the younger guys, seeing someone like that coming in to help them is very important.
“It makes them want to play for Down, and learn from people like that.”
Things have not went immediately to plan for Down this season.
They began the championship having missed out on a place in the division 2B final.
And then they lost their opening Christy Ring game to Derry.
But then they went on a run of wins against Wicklow, Donegal and Roscommon to earn their place in the decider.
“It has been a good competition for us. We didn’t get the start that we wanted against Derry, but since then we have kicked on.
“Wicklow was the turning point.
“We beat Wicklow in the league so we knew we had it in us to beat them (in the championship).
“They had gained promotion up to division 2A. It is always tough between us. We had a good performance against them.
“For a young team, and after getting beat in the first game, there was a lot of pressure on us.
“The young guys rose to the occasion. That is a testament to the management.”
But they dealt with that pressure, and they ended up winning by 2-25 to 2-19. That provided them with the springboard to launch into the rest of the competition, a round three game against Donegal and a semi-final against Roscommon.
“We were clinical against Donegal and we showed our composure against Roscommon.”
Sands credits the management of Ronan Sheehan for much of the recent success.
“He has managed minor teams for the last three or four years. He has worked with all those guys. The players he has worked with all know the type of game that he wants to play. And the system that he wants them to play.”
That system is, of course, the one that puts the Sands boys at the focal point of the attack.
“He has also brought in a level of organisation that has not been there before. All our games are video’d and there is a detailed analysis.”
The man who does a lot of the analysis is the great Diarmuid O’Sullivan
Sands said that their fitness and conditioning has also been a factor in their run this season.
They have had Tony Austin, who coached numerous St Mary’s CBGS Mageean Cup teams to success, as their trainer.
“He got the guys trained up. He gave us the plan that we needed.”
Now they need to go out and execute that plan.
They are up against the 2016 champions, who beat Antrim in that controversial final which went to a replay after issues with the scoreboard.
This year Meath have progressed to the decider after three group stage wins over Roscommon, Kildare and London.
They then beat Derry in the semi-final. Jack Regan was important as he scored 1-14 from the half forward line. Their other threats were Gavin MGowan who got their second goal, and Nickey Potterton got major number three of the 3-24 to 2-18 win.
“We know that it is a big thing, this final.
“It is a game that we have to win. For Down to be playing in an All-Ireland final in Croke Park, it is a massive thing.
“I have played in big games before, more so for the club. The most important thing is to get the preparations right.”