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Johnston sets Mourne objective as Red Hands aim to show resilience

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Challenge: Mickey Johnston wants Down to step it up

Challenge: Mickey Johnston wants Down to step it up

©William Cherry / Presseye

Challenge: Mickey Johnston wants Down to step it up

Down hurling manager Mickey Johnston has challenged his players not to find themselves as far back as fourth in the Ulster pecking order when they face Derry in the make-or-break Christy Ring fixture (Owenbeg, 2pm).

"This game isn't just about the Christy Ring. If we don't win, are we now fourth in Ulster? Have Down slipped that far down the road?" said Johnston.

"These questions need to be put to the players as well and they are very conscious of where they are at. We were within a puck of the ball of winning Ulster last year. We were within a puck of the ball of beating Derry last year in the Christy Ring to get into the final."

Down had a deflating five-point loss to London last weekend in Ballycran, with Johnston agreeing the remaining regrets of the Division 2B final defeat to Armagh on Easter Saturday still playing on their minds.

Elsewhere, Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh hurlers hit the Nicky Rackard Cup trail again today anxious to press their claims for further credibility.

The Orchard County travel to take on Mayo in what is a tricky assignment against a robust, energetic side that have maintained their place in the second tier of the sport for some time.

Armagh boss Sylvester McConnell is hoping that his side can step up a gear. "We have to try and get back up the championship ladder after winning the league and the fact that we had such a tough game against Donegal underlines just how difficult this is going to be," pointed out the Middletown clubman.

Tyrone themselves will face Longford with manager Kevin Ryan keen to see an improvement on last week's second-half collapse against Mayo. Their leading marksman Damien Casey makes it clear that while there is talent in the line-up, total commitment is required.

"We don't want to suffer back-to-back defeats," said team vice-captain Casey.

Fermanagh have ground to make up against Donegal today following a 5-12 to 1-12 defeat to Monaghan last weekend.

Joint-manager Seamus McCusker said: "We can't make excuses, we were beaten by a better side and we know it will now be very difficult against Donegal who ran Armagh so close."

Monaghan will meet Fingal hoping to land a second win on the trot that could thrust them more firmly into the reckoning for the trophy.

Belfast Telegraph