Former Portaferry, Down and Ulster hurler Noel Sands has fired out a challenge to his 17-year-old son Eoghan to follow in his footsteps.
The talented teenager, who has just collected a coveted Ulster Colleges Allstar award, recently won the provincial ‘Young Hurler of the Year’ accolade and appears destined for a lengthy stint in the Down side.
But his father is making sure that his feet do not leave the ground.
“I was very lucky to win three Ulster titles, two Under 21 prizes and a couple of minor accolades with Down as well as being Hurler of the year in 1997 and I have merely pointed this out to Eoghan to help him keep his feet on the ground,” smiles Noel.
The indications are, however, that Eoghan could perhaps emulate his father’s feats should he maintain the rich vein of form he has shown throughout 2012.
His scoring exploits proved crucial in taking Portaferry to the Down title and the peninsula men were only denied an Ulster crown because of the continuing brilliance of current All-Ireland club champions Loughgiel.
Noel himself is manager of the Portaferry side and while happy with the team’s progress, he is particularly anxious to see Down reclaim the Ulster title.
“Let’s be honest, that’s not going to be easy when you consider that Antrim have won eleven titles on the bounce but it’s time that a meaningful challenge was mounted to their supremacy,” insists Noel, “Obviously our three senior clubs in Down — Portaferry, Ballygalget and Ballycran — get valuable experience in the Antrim leagues and this means that younger players can make progress a lot more quickly than might otherwise be expected.”
Eoghan skippered St Patrick’s HS Downpatrick to their Casement Cup triumph in the Ulster colleges’ sphere recently — a first for the school — and is still eligible for Down at minor level.
Like his father, his commitment to hurling is absolute.
“I think I inherited my passion for the game from him,” he smiles, “It was a great thrill to play in the Ulster club final but having been there I would like to return with Portaferry and come out as winners.”
There is growing optimism that Down can make an impact in the forthcoming Allianz League and both Noel and Eoghan share in this.
“I honestly think that Gerard Monan is a fine manager and that he has made a great capture in getting former Waterford player Paul Flynn in as coach,” maintains Noel.
Monan indeed is set to blood a raft of young players as the Down side acquires a fresh dimension although established players such as Conor Woods, Paul Braniff, Andy Savage, Ciaran Coulter and Sean and Brendan Ennis will still be there to set the template for the youngsters in the side.