Committed Conor Woods backed to shine
The theory that players can be lukewarm in their approach to the Inter-Provincial hurling championship will be emphatically kicked into touch by Conor Woods today.
Down's inspirational centre-half-back was married two weeks ago but has put his honeymoon on hold in order to assist Ulster in their daunting semi-final against Connacht at Pearse Stadium, Salthill (12.30pm).
And if his commitment to the province is nothing less than absolute, then it is mirrored by his loyalty to his county.
A matter of weeks after sustaining two broken ribs in a Christy Ring Cup match against Derry, Woods lined out against Antrim in the Ulster senior championship final and sparked a frenetic show of defiance that just fell short in the end when the Saffrons won by a solitary point.
Before that, he played a leading role in bringing Ballycran to the Down crown before their Ulster Club title ambitions were jettisoned by Derry champions Slaughtneil.
Today, Woods will line up alongside such similarly committed players as Chrissy O'Connell, Conor McKinley and Neal McAuley in an Ulster defence that can expect a rigorous attack from a Connacht side that is expected to be festooned with Galway players.
Woods, an engineer, will enter the Inter-Provincial fray buoyed by a ringing endorsement from Down boss Michael Johnston.
"Conor is a real leader, a player who sets a great example. He shows immense courage and intensity in matches and I have no doubt that he will prove a great asset to this Ulster side," insisted Johnson.
"Obviously they face a tough challenge but I know for sure that the likes of Conor won't be fazed by this."
Woods has played at half-forward and in the full-back line in the past but has blossomed since taking over in the No.6 shirt.
Ulster manager Kevin Ryan will look to his tenacity and spirit to bolster the side while he will also lean on the shooting skills of players such as Damien Casey, Ciaran Clarke, Ruairi Convery and the emerging Conor Corvan to sustain his team's challenge.
Ryan reflected: "It's good to see players like Casey, Clarke, Corvan and others coming through at this level.
"I know that the Inter-Pros may not be the most high-profile matches on the fixtures programme but I assure you that the Ulster players take their mission very seriously indeed. I think this will be reflected in their performance."