Down’s hurlers are approaching full strength at just the right time, having claimed a semi-final place in the Christy Ring Cup at the expense of Meath at a rain-lashed Ballycran on Saturday.
The Ardsmen saw off the Royals with nine points to spare, 1-18 to 1-7, after welcoming back Paul Braniff, Eoin Clarke and Conor Woods to the starting line-up.
Braniff was on target for Down’s goal in the ninth minute as Down powered to a 1-8 to no score lead with Clarke, Benny Ennis, Gareth Johnson and Conor O’Prey all raising flags on the way to a 1-12 to 0-1 half-time lead. Meath, who lost corner forward Peter Durnin to two yellow cards just before half-time, rallied in the second half with Michael Cole finding the net and Noel Kirby on target from frees, but the gap never reduced to less than nine points.
“The squad is getting stronger which is good for Down. Gabriel Clarke is back and Simon Wilson so we have a bit of strength in depth and a bit of experience,” said manager Ger Monan who also named Fintan Conway amongst the subs.
It was an improved performance from Down who lost out to Derry in the opening round and laboured at times against Armagh in the previous round.
“What they are doing in training they are starting to do in the matches. They are working hard in training,” Monan said.
“In the first 20 minutes we knew we had to play well, Meath scored 1-17 against Kerry so we knew what they are capable of.”
Derry were also in quarter-final action but went down by 14 points to a rampant Kildare side at Banagher.
It was a tough ask for the Oak Leafers who were missing talismen Ruairi Convery and Kevin Hinphey through suspension, and the task was made tougher when Kildare found the net three times in the first 15 minutes.
Derry raised a green flag through Cathal McKeever but Martin Fitzgerald added his second goal after the restart to copper-fasten Kildare’s passage to the semi-final on a 4-18 to 1-13 scoreline.
South Down clinched a semi-final place in the Lory Meagher Cup with a 2-14 to 1-14 win over Longford, but Fermanagh lost out to Warwickshire by 4-8 to 1-10. Donegal and Tyrone await in the semi-finals.