IN theory, as Antrim would be hotly favoured to beat Derry, Down should win this Ulster SHC semi-final, but Jim McKernan, the former Saffrons player and manager, now in charge of the Mourne-men, preaches caution.
“Theory is fine but it will come down to the two sets of players and how they perform on the day. We had a very competitive league game against them a couple of months ago, they’re a competent, useful, competitive outfit.”
A lot of people were surprised when London overcame Armagh to qualify for this stage but not McKernan.
“We played Armagh recently and I didn’t think there was ever going to be an awful lot in it but I had a sneaking feeling London would shade it.”
The main man for London in that win was Corkman Martin Finn, former star with Dromina, half-parish to Newtownshandrum. A big, strong, robust player, Finn scored 14 points in the dramatic 2-23 to 4-16 win over Armagh, including the winner, a 65 deep into injury-time.
“He had a superb game against us in the league and he excelled against Armagh — we’re wary of him and will be doing our best not to give frees away. But they have a lot of good tidy hurlers, we’re going to have to be near our maximum ability. We’ll be treating London with huge respect.”
Fielding a competitive side is challenge enough for the London representatives but given the logistics of the place, its sheer size, the traffic volume, finding the time to actually train together is a major problem. The bulk of the Down players, however, come from the Ards Peninsula, almost an island in itself. Mind you, there are now two players using the ferry to cross Carlingford Lough for training; Fintan Conway and Kieran Courtney were both on the South Down side which created a bit of history this year when winning the fourth division title as Down became the first county to field two teams in the National League. “They had a very good year,” said the manager. “They do a lot of hurling down in the south – south Down that is – but the problem is that at a certain age the big black cloud of football appears and robs the best of them. Derry have a real problem with that, they’re exceptional up to minor but then the football takes over. The Ards peninsula has a big advantage that way, it’s dominated by hurling, but south Down is different.” As for that fitness advantage? “I know quite a few of the London lads, you may be sure that what they lack in fitness they’ll make up for in strength and endurance. It’s a level game, we’re looking forward to it, great preparation for our Christy Ring campaign. I don’t know what lies ahead of whoever goes forward to meet Antrim, they’re light years ahead of us both, but we’ll be trying our damnedest to get a win.”
LONDON: G McCollum, P Mulcahy, S McLoughlin, T Simms, T Abernethy, N Healy, E Phelan, F McMahon, C O’Halloran, J McCarthy, S Quinn, M Mythen, K McMullan, M Finn, C McDonnell.
DOWN: Graham Clarke; L Clarke, S Murray, F Conway; S Wilson, K Courtney, Gabriel Clarke; A Savage, R McGrattan; P Braniff, B McGourty, C Woods; E Clarke, G Johnston, S Clarke.
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