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Down hope schedule hasn’t put them in fix

By Micheal McGeary

Hurling fans are in for a real treat when Antrim and Down cross hurls in the Ulster senior final tomorrow afternoon in Casement Park.

Antrim’s superb performance against Offaly in the All Ireland qualifiers when they were only pipped in extra time makes for an intriguing 70 minutes.

Offaly’s brilliant display last Sunday when drawing with Galway in arguably the hurling match of the year so far suggests Antrim’s performance against the Faithful County was no fluke.

Dinny Cahill again appears to be working his magic with the Saffrons, having paid the Allianz League little more than lip service.

Antrim will have Neil McManus again leading from the front, one eye on the All Ireland qualifiers, but Cahill won’t want to lose this one, especially after reaching dizzy heights against Offaly in Parnell Park.

Down have had more than their share of problems in recent times as county chairman Seamus Walsh explains.

“We had the ridiculous situation before the Christy Ring Cup when we had men playing two club games a week as well as a game on Sunday,” he said.

“Amateur players were being asked to do what a professional sportsman wouldn’t even contemplate. Effectively it meant our preparations were far from being ideal.

“By the time Sunday came around our players needed a rest rather than 70 minutes of hurling and they were being placed in a totally invidious position. We now have to look towards getting some sort of improvement so that there is no repeat in 2011.

“We spoke to Antrim and they certainly made a few changes which allowed us to improve preparations for the Ulster final.

“Until then you had a situation whereby we had players playing midweek in the Antrim league, Christy Ring hurling on Saturday and Down league on Monday evenings,” he added.

Walsh is more than happy and the spirit in the Mourne camp is apparently high.

“There is a belief we can win this game. Certainly there is sufficient quality in the side to achieve that,” he said.

Down will again be without the inspirational ‘Magic’ Johnston as they have all season, but the Down Chairman is confident the defending champions can cope.

“But we’ve a good spirit in t he camp and manager Gerard Monan is doing a first class job.

“He’s a hurling man through and through and is hugely respected by the players,” he said.

Former Down star Noel Sands, a player who lit up many Ulster deciders in the not too distant past believes it’s time for a change in the hurling championship format.

He’s convinced the competition would benefit greatly from a change in the timing and in the format.

“There’s no point in fixing matches in the middle of other competition,” he said

“It has been tried and found to be unworkable.”

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