Hurling: Clarke bemoans Down's lack of Magic
Down's defeat to Wicklow in last Sunday's Division 2A playoff has effectively relegated them to hurling’s fifth tier, and left midfielder Eoin Clarke assessing his immediate future for the rest of the season.
A couple of years ago, Clarke booked his wedding for a time that would have suited his sporting calender, but now that the Christy Ring Cup has been brought forward in the year, Clarke will miss the opening two fixtures against Mayo on May 5, and the resulting fixture a week later.
Reflecting on the loss to Wicklow on Sunday, he bemoaned the loss of Gareth ‘Magic' Johnston to the Ardsmen's attack. Without him, their goal threat has been significantly reduced.
“You were that used to pumping the ball up to Magic. It was an outlet when you were under pressure. You could have pumped it up way into the sky from 60 yards, and nine times out of ten, if he didn't catch it, it was landing at a corner-forwards' feet. But you always would have got goal chances off it, whereas now we are putting it up to wee men”, Clarke said.
Another feature of Down's season has been their failure to get out of the blocks quick enough at the start of games.
It came back to haunt them on Sunday again, according to Clarke.
“In the first half we were with the wind and we should have capitalised on it, I think they went in five points ahead,” he added. “The boys played well in the second half, but that was too much to do. The first half killed us.”
Despite the relegation, Clarke was determined that Down would stick together, and paid tribute to the efforts of team manager Ger Monan, saying, “Ger has been immense for Down hurling, it's just unfortunate that he didn't take it ten years ago.
“If Ger had the players that maybe Jimmy O'Reilly had, the Gerard McGrattans, Simon Wilsons and Gary Savages, we could be a lot further forward than we are now. But, it's just one of these things, he has to work with what we have got. The recession is not helping him either, he can't hold on to the players.”
Down face the winners of the Derry and Armagh tie in the Ulster Championship semi-final on July 1, but can’t be too confident of taking their place in the final. Armagh beat them in last year's semi, while Derry were six points better off in the league in March.