Down know the score in hunt for Cup joy: Sheehan
Down hurling manager Ronan Sheehan has watched his side stride impressively into today's Christy Ring Cup final against Meath at Croke Park (2pm) but is conscious that they face their biggest challenge of the year to date.
Meath go into the game buoyed by four successive wins in the competition and are favourites to repeat their 2016 triumph.
Yet Down, who beat Roscommon in the semi-final (3-18 to 1-15) to complement earlier away wins over Wicklow (2-25 to 2-19) and Donegal (7-22 to 2-15), are ready to put their best foot forward at Headquarters.
Sheehan, who has carefully moulded a side that is bristling with skill and energy, believes that the prize on offer will help to bring out the best in his men.
"There is a great spirit within this Down squad and I feel they can meet this big test head on," declared Sheehan.
"We have been getting some big scores but we have also conceded scores, so the priority will be to strike a balance between defence and attack. We have shown we can take scores but we have to ensure that Meath do not have any freedom."
Caolan Taggart, Paul Sheehan, the Sands brothers Eoghan and Daithi, along with the Savage brothers Liam and Phelim, form the core of a Down side that is particularly keen to do their county and province proud.
In order to achieve this, they will have to shackle lethal Meath marksman Jack Regan, who helped himself to 1-14 in the 3-24 to 2-18 semi-final win over Roscommon.
Adam Gannon also offers a big threat from within the Royal County ranks, while Meath's overall experience of competing against teams that are just outside the elite tier could stand them in good stead.
The Sands brothers have shown a marked penchant for landing goals - they each scored three in the runaway win over Donegal - and if either can hit the net today, they will certainly bolster the Mournemen's chances of coming out on top.
"We will need to keep our concentration from the outset, minimise mistakes and convert our scoring chances. A tall order overall but it can be done," insisted manager Sheehan.
As the season has unfolded, Down have palpably grown in confidence and belief.
Manager Sheehan, who GAA president John Horan has appointed as a member of the high-powered new Fixtures Review Committee, has instilled in his players a sense of dedication and pride which have surfaced over the course of their Championship campaign.
"I know there are questions being asked about Ulster hurling but we believe the best way to show the true health of the sport is by bringing home cups," insisted Sheehan, a senior planning manager with Lloyds Bank.
He has put Meath under the microscope over the course of the past week and accepts that his side could hardly be facing tougher opponents.
"Meath always seem to be there or thereabouts when trophies are being decided, so we know what to expect," he added.