THE mountainous odds which Ulster counties face in their bid to dine at hurling's top table are brought into stark focus as Down and Derry prepare to meet in the Ulster senior championship replay at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh on Sunday.
Derry, whose second-half comeback led to eventual stalemate in last Sunday's first meeting, are currently conducting their championship campaign without seventeen of the players who helped to bring them into last year's provincial decider in which they were beaten by Antrim.
Down, meanwhile, are facing into their eighth game in nine weeks, a rigorous itinerary that county chairman Seamus Walsh believes could perhaps have been avoided with better fixtures planning.
While Derry boss Ger Rogan patiently assembles a new-look side that carries limited experience into the demanding championship arena, his Down counterpart Gerard Monan is carefully overseeing a rehabilitation process aimed at combating the fatigue which clearly afflicted his side in the second-half of last Sunday's contest.
The fact too that part of this period of the game was played in a downpour also impacted on the stamina of both teams.
Rogan, despite the inroads which emigration, injuries and withdrawals have made within his squad, is nevertheless fired with enthusiasm in relation to his team's prospects because of what he describes as "their superb attitude."
They may have endured an indifferent journey through the Christy Ring Cup but Rogan believes that his side will only cement their experience by playing more matches.
"This is essentially a young Derry side. They have a superb attitude though and I think they showed this by the way in which they came back in the second-half last Sunday," states former Antrim and Ulster player Rogan.
Derry certainly made life extremely difficult for Down after the break by whisking over eleven unanswered points and winning individual battles all over the park with Aaron Kelly, Kevin Hinphey and Tiernan McCloskey leading the way in terms of their scoring bonanza. But the possible loss of free-taker Paddy Henry could prove a blow.
While the capture of the Christy Ring Cup has already been hailed as a significant achievement, chairman Walsh feels that big demands are being made on the players.
"They were fatigued in the second-half last Sunday as it was their seventh game in eight weeks and that's why Derry were able to come back at us," explains Walsh.