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Hungry Down can set up final date with Saffrons

By John Campbell

A season that initially held rich promise for Down's hurlers may yet yield a nil dividend in terms of trophy returns.

And that's something manager Gerard Monan is anxious to avoid as he focuses on tomorrow's Ulster Championship semi-final against Derry.

The Kehoe Cup, the postponed 2013 Ulster final which was played in February and the Christy Ring Cup have so far provided only frustration for Monan's men and this has heightened their resolve to end Antrim's dominance of the provincial flagship competition.

Derry, though, form a significant hurdle to this aspiration, not least because, in an absorbing Christy Ring cup tie between the sides, Ger Rogan's battlers won by the narrowest of margins (2-16 to 3-12).

Opportunity knocks for Down to gain revenge for this setback and in the process set up a confrontation with Antrim in the final.

Having had to go through the motions of a Christy Ring relegation play-off against Armagh, then retain their status by virtue of Tyrone's failure to field for a promotion showdown and glide through a rather one-sided Ulster quarter-final against Donegal, it could be said that Down's competitive juices have not exactly been in full flow lately.

It will be a different story tomorrow, though. Derry will arrive at the Athletic Grounds armed with ambition and bolstered by considerable fire-power in the form of Ruairi Convery, John O'Dwyer, Oisin McCloskey, Aaron Kelly and Brendan Rogers.

Like Down, they have designs on the provincial title but are aware that their defence, in which Kevin Hinphey, Paul Cleary and Aaron Rafferty are key figures, needs to be at concert pitch if their opponents' potent attack is to be contained.

Down, of course, boast their own arsenal of quality players but they have been rather prone to conceding scores recently.

Even in overcoming Armagh, Down still conceded 2-15 which took some of the gloss from the impressive 5-24 that they themselves registered. For all that, their considerable hunger, resolve and cohesive skills might just see them surmount this particular obstacle.

Derry: D McDermott; R McCLoskey, A Rafferty, E McGuckin; P Cleary, K Hinphey, C McQuillan; S McGuigan, M O'Hagan; D O'Neill, O McCloskey, A Kelly; J O'Dwyer, R Convery, B Rogers.

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