Ger Monan wants Down to build on flawless record
The importance of getting off to a good start in the league has been vividly illustrated in the case of Down in this year's Division 2B National Hurling league campaign.
Their poor start to last year's league in losing the opening two matches ensured they would spend 2014 in similar company, even though their four consecutive wins at the end of the league was a springboard to eventual triumph in the Christy Ring Cup.
Curiously enough, it was Meath who defeated Down in the first game of the 2013 campaign. Now, Down meet the Royals in Ballycran tomorrow having garnered maximum points from their opening four matches.
While Down are all but in the league final, Meath require two points to stay in the hunt and for Wicklow to fall into some unlikely problems against a Fingal side that have struggled to date.
"They have to win on Sunday," points out Down manager Ger Monan. "We have to win as well as far as we are concerned, so it is pretty close to a Championship match really."
They know all about those set of circumstances. In last year's Christy Ring semi-final, the two sides drew in Trim, before Down comprehensively won the replay in Ballycran, 0-23 to 1-10.
While Meath's experienced wing-back Stephen Clynch has returned to the fray and will add a threat from the dead ball, Down have had to manage without their attacking talismen, Paul Braniff and Gareth 'Magic' Johnston.
The latter ruptured his cruciate ligament in a Kehoe Cup semi-final against Kildare back in February, while Monan has not given up hope of tempting Braniff back for another summer's hurling.
"Hopefully, we will see how things go," he says of that side project. "The season won't be over for a while. I wouldn't say it is over yet."
Having said that, without the totemic Johnston up at the edge of the square, Monan and his selector Paul Flynn have had to do a little tinkering and adapting to Down's approach. He said that as soon as Johnston's injury occurred, they were on the case.
"Paul Braniff and Magic would be very hard to replace, but we realised before the league started we had to try and change the way we play a bit to suit the team we have at the minute. We have tried to do that and so far it has been working pretty good."
It has been noticeable how Down have utterly dominated games. They beat neighbours Armagh by a 16-point margin.
Wicklow were dismissed by eight. Mayo gave them a little bit of bother but they were still able to close things out, while they blitzed Fingal to win by 15.
Their place in the final is not assured, but two more wins and they will be up. Not a bad way to prepare for the defence of the Christy Ring Cup.