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Mickey Johnston in hot pursuit of Cup clash against his sons

By Declan Bogue

Down hurling manager Mickey Johnston didn't have to look too hard for scouts at today's opponents Roscommon's last game - he had two sitting on his living room sofa.

His sons Ciaran and Conor are key members of the Antrim side, and got as close a look as possible last weekend in the Saffrons' possibly fortunate win over the Rossies in Dunloy.

However, midfielder Ciaran suffered a nasty gash on his shin during the first-half, forcing his withdrawal. Two studs cut his flesh down to the shinbone and resulted in a hospital visit, 11 stitches and a few days on crutches at the start of the week.

Conor spent the day on the bench, out for one game with an ankle injury, but he was hardly jotting down notes for his father.

"Conor? He generally gives a straight yes or no answer, he wouldn't give too much away!" laughed dad Mickey.

A win in Ballycran today (throw-in at 2pm) would send Down into the Christy Ring semi-final, in which they could meet Antrim - and Mickey's sons - in a fortnight.

While manager of Armagh, Johnston came up against Roscommon enough times to know that Down should not take them for granted, and he labels the Connacht side as favourites for this afternoon.

"Roscommon were coming off the back of 13 games undefeated," he stated about last weekend's game in Dunloy.

"They have a very deliberate style, a very deliberate organisation. They seem to be able to adjust from Plan A to Plan B.

"They are big, strong physical fellas, both under the breaking ball and well able to win their own ball as well. We are going to have to be up, both physically and on the primary ball and on the break of the ball.

"We are under no illusions, they are favourites coming to play us."

Last weekend, Johnston had warned his players against slipping into fourth position in Ulster hurling ahead of their encounter with Derry. In the end, they scraped through and announced themselves as delighted with the result in the prevailing circumstances.

"Saturdays in the Christy Ring are difficult. We have quite a few boys working Saturdays. Then we have fellas who are away with work in England who weren't available to us," explained Johnston.

"We travelled with 19 players. Of the 19 players we travelled with, Conor Mageann came on after 19 minutes and he had a broken hand and had to play the rest of the game.

"Conor O'Prey was carrying a hamstring injury and had to come on.

"At one stage we looked around and were nearly asking for a pair of boots for ourselves because if it had have went to extra-time we would have been in serious trouble."

After losing the Division 2B league final to Armagh and their opening Christy Ring fixture to London, the Mournemen were left cursing their luck and the difficulties of being in transition.

However, this weekend they are looking at the Roscommon game as being an All-Ireland quarter-final, and Johnston believes they are coming good at the right time.

"There is a performance in that Down team coming. The performance is certainly coming. And we are quietly confident going into this weekend," the manager added.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph