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Savage bemoans lack of love for the jersey in Down ahead of Ring campaign

 

By Declan Bogue

The chances of Down bridging the gap back to 2013 when they won their solitary Christy Ring Cup are minimal, according to selector Gary Savage.

The Ballycran man hurled for two decades with the Ardsmen, but while his devotion to the county was all-consuming and a passionate affair, he despairs at how the lure of hurling for the county has tailed off.

Ahead of their meeting with Roscommon tomorrow (Ballycran, 1pm), Savage has spelled out the difficulties facing Down since he accepted Marty Mallon's invitation to become part of the county management team.

"At the start of the year we had 28 players. We went to the Ulster semi-final (defeat to Armagh) with 19 or 20 players. A lot of boys just don't commit. The county is not good enough for them, or whatever," sighs a resigned Savage.

When it is put to him that Down hurling has fallen a long way off the period in the '90s when he and his team-mates were winning provincial titles, he explains: "It's one of the reasons we came back, me and Marty, we wanted to give the thing a bit of a lift, to win something.

"But it has nearly turned around on us the wrong way. We haven't had a good year. We do take it to heart and it is very, very disappointing."

For the stay away players, he had a stern rebuke.

"It is the boys at home, lying at home seeing the results come in, those are the boys that should be more disappointed than these boys. Fair play to these boys, these boys show up and play the game," he says.

"There are a lot of boys that maybe come at the start of the year, they get their gear and then head on and go on home."

In order to bolster numbers at training, Savage and Mallon invited a number of under-21 players in, but not all of them were willing to commit for a Ring campaign they have scant chance of succeeding in.

Overall, he paints a depressing picture for hurling in the county, adding: "We will have to look at it and see where we are from there. The commitment in the county, as a whole, is not good.

"It's changed times. It's a different era. Maybe there is that much going on, but I don't think the commitment is there. You can see that as the year has went on. We are upfront as a management team, and maybe we are a bit too upfront too much."

One side who are entertaining realistic hopes of the Christy Ring are Antrim. Priced at 11/8 favourites, they meet Carlow who are also tightly priced at 6/4 in Netwatch Dr Cullen Park today (throw-in 3pm).

They could also end up meeting Colm Bonner's men in the final, which would represent the fourth such game between these counties given their two matches in Division 2A.

Antrim have already travelled to the bottom right corner of Ireland, leaving for the match yesterday afternoon.

"Basically we just had a light session on Tuesday, we didn't train Thursday," said their joint-manager Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton. "It is a lot of old hassle trying to get boys off early from work and that sort of thing."

While the winning of the Christy Ring Cup guarantees the winners entry back into the Liam MacCarthy Cup, McNaughton insists that one of their key objectives has already been achieved this season with promotion to 1B in 2018 and the return of more big glamour games.

"We had to try to get up to that level, to play at the highest level that we possibly can to try and encourage everyone who is available for Antrim to play for Antrim," he says.

"It's nice when you have Galway coming to town, when you have Limerick and Dublin there next year.

"It helps hurling in Antrim when teams are coming," says McNaughton.

"At the minute we might be out of our depth with them, but they are the sort of games that as a hurler you want to play in," he adds.

In the other weekend fixtures in the Christy Ring Cup, last year's Nicky Rackard champions Mayo are out in action against Kildare (today, Ballina, 3pm) while Wicklow play hosts to London in Aughrim (tomorrow, 1pm).

Belfast Telegraph

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