Gerard Monan hopeful of building Down momentum
The first month of 2014 has yet to run its entire course, but already Down hurling boss Gerard Monan is counting his blessings.
His team will take on Antrim in tomorrow's 2013 Ulster final but only after they have crossed swords with Kildare in the semi-final of the Kehoe Cup today.
It will be a particularly busy 24-hour period for Monan's men and he has cause to be thankful that he has a 34-man panel.
Having already beaten Queen's and Fingal in the Kehoe Cup, Down will face a much stiffer task today against a Kildare outfit that is an amalgam of youth and experience. But Monan suggests that the cohesion which his side has acquired should stand to them, even at this early stage of the season.
"It has been a busy month surely but I'm not complaining," reflects Monan.
"My hope is that we can retain our recent winning habit. Victory today would give us a place in the Kehoe Cup final against Derry or Meath, while an Ulster title tomorrow would be very welcome indeed."
With Paul Sheehan beginning to emerge as a forward of rare quality, Ryan Brannigan having made an impressive debut in defence and Danny Toner and James Coyle still very much on song in attack, Monan's squad is acquiring a formidable hue.
But the manager accepts the Antrim's hunger to remain on the Ulster throne will fortify their resolve for the provincial showdown.
"Antrim will want to keep their title but we would not object to having it," smiles Monan.
"We have sharper competition for places in our team now and that's encouraging."
Even though his team stand just 70 minutes away from a rare Ulster crown, this does not dissuade Monan from outlining what he defines as his prime goal this term.
"Taking the side out of Division 2B, that's my big aim," he asserts.
"I feel it is very important that we move up as this will provide an even better basis for the players to challenge themselves.
"We are of course very keen to win the Ulster title and the Kehoe Cup but promotion in the league would be a real boost for us, I believe."