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Old hand: The experience of Stephen Keith can bolster Down against Kildare tomorrow

Old hand: The experience of Stephen Keith can bolster Down against Kildare tomorrow

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Fired up: Down’s Ronan Sheehan expects a tough test at Croke Park

Fired up: Down’s Ronan Sheehan expects a tough test at Croke Park

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

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Old hand: The experience of Stephen Keith can bolster Down against Kildare tomorrow

A Down side that "didn't lick it off the stones", in the words of manager Ronan Sheehan, will bid to provide another boost for hurling in the province when they confront Kildare in the Christy Ring Cup final at Croke Park tomorrow (4.00pm).

Headquarters will be deserted for the occasion yet there is nowhere on earth that Sheehan's men would rather be.

And with surnames such as Keith, Savage, Woods, Sands and Hughes predominant in their line-up, the team will be fuelled by an enviable tradition and, indeed, rich dynasty.

Goalkeeper Stephen Keith is following in the footsteps of his dad Noel by consistently excelling between the posts, Phelim and Liam Savage owe much to their father Gary for their inherent skills, Eoghan and Daithi Sands have taken a leaf out of their dad Noel's book when it comes to finishing and Donal Hughes is maintaining the on-field input established by his father Danny.

No wonder manager Sheehan is imbued with a sense of optimism as he contemplates the possibility of Down adding another feather to their cap having already clinched the Division 2B title and gained entry to next year's more prestigious Joe McDonagh Cup.

"I think it's tremendous that this team is representing Down at Croke Park on Sunday. It's a particular honour for us because what would have been Christy Ring's 100th birthday has just been celebrated. These boys did not lick their passion for hurling off the stones," says Sheehan.

Down sent a tremor through the hurling world by the manner in which they squeezed past fancied Offaly at the semi-final stage following a novel penalty shoot-out, yet Sheehan will be looking for even more from his side tomorrow.

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"I am absolutely delighted that Donegal are in the Nicky Rackard Cup final and that Antrim are within touching distance of the Joe McDonagh Cup final," says Sheehan. "But, naturally, Down are my chief concern. We have our hearts set on winning, not just for ourselves but for the sake of hurling in Down and Ulster."

Kildare showed in beating Roscommon by 3-24 to 1-19 in their semi-final that they are in mean mood. Jack Sheridan, James Burke, Brian Byrne and David Slattery, along with midfield duo Cathal Dowling and Paul Divilly, will lead their drive for glory.

In the Nicky Rackard Cup final, also at Croke Park tomorrow (1.30pm), Donegal will face a stiff test of their credentials against Mayo.

The north-west side overcame Tyrone in the semi-final last weekend and their line-up may be boosted by the possible return of Declan Coulter.

Ciaran Matthewson, Gerard Gilmore, Richie Ryan and Joe Boyle can lead Donegal's bid to capture the silverware, but in Mayo they will be coming up against a side that boasts a sturdy defence.

The Connacht outfit invariably prove difficult opponents, particularly when trophies are on offer, and Donegal will certainly need to hit the ground running if they are to come out on top.

Down v Kildare

Croke Park, Tomorrow, 4pm


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