Sean Geraghty, Meath, and Caolan Taggart, Down, pictured ahead of the Christy Ring Cup Final at Croke Park.
Sean Geraghty, Meath, and Caolan Taggart, Down, pictured ahead of the Christy Ring Cup Final at Croke Park.

Preview: Christy Ring Cup Final

Saturday June 22

Christy Ring Cup Final

Down v Meath, Croke Park, 2pm

Down and Meath will both be aiming to win the Christy Ring Cup for a second time when they contest Saturday’s final at Croke Park.

Down, who have competed in every year of the Christy Ring Cup, are in the final for the first time since they won their only title to date in 2013. 2016 winners Meath, who won an epic final after a replay against Antrim three years ago, are looking to bounce back after being relegated from the Joe McDonagh Cup last summer.

Meath were the highest-placed Christy Ring competitor in this year’s Allianz Hurling League, where they maintained their Division 2A status, while a final-round defeat against Kildare saw Down miss out on a shot at promotion from Division 2B. A place in this final would have seemed a long way off for Down when they fell to a nine-point defeat in their first round-robin game against Derry, but they got back to winning ways away to Wicklow. Another away win – by a comprehensive margin – over Donegal saw the Mourne County finish top of Group 1 on score difference.

Meath topped Group 2 with minimal fuss, enjoying three straight wins at the expense of London, Kildare and Roscommon. These teams had nine points to spare in their semi-finals, where Down saw off Roscommon and Meath defeated Derry, both after strong finishes.

Down have hit a huge 14-79 for an average score of over 30 points, with half of their goals coming in the Donegal rout. Meath have also been in prolific form, amassing 7-97, while they have been tighter in defence, leaking just 3-63, 21 points less than Down’s 8-69.

The teams named show just one change from the semi-finals. Meath have named an unchanged starting XV, with Danny Toner coming in for Danny Toner at wing-forward on the Down selection. Ruairí McCrickard is set to miss out through suspension for Ronan Sheehan’s side.

Jack Regan has been a free-scoring machine for Meath, with 1-55 to his name, while Eamonn Ó Donnacadh, Alan Douglas, Adam Gannon and Barry Slevin are also among their attacking threats. Gavin McGowan and Nicholas Potterton weighed in with vital goals last time out for Nick Fitzgerald’s charges, who will also be looking for Damien Healy, James Kelly and Keith Keoghan to play central roles in front of goalkeeper Shane McGann, who made an important penalty save against Derry.

Down have had a more even spread of scorers, with Daithí and Eoghan Sands notching 11 goals between them to date, including a hat-trick apiece in Letterkenny. Daithí Sands has hit the net 12 times himself in this competition between 2018 and 2019. Oisín MacManus and Paul Sheehan have also passed the 20-point mark in Down’s run to this final, with Tim Prenter joining them in double figures. Liam and Phelim Savage power the midfield engine room for Down, with Caolán Taggart and John McManus anchoring their defence. Manager Sheehan has been able to call on the expertise of Cork legend Diarmuid O’Sullivan as part of his extended back-room team this year.

Meath were the pre-tournament favourites and will once again carry that tag into Saturday’s final, although Down’s scoring power should present them with a different challenge in what promises to be an open encounter.

Down’s Christy Ring Cup scorers 2019: Daithí Sands 6-7; Eoghan Sands 5-6; Oisín MacManus 0-21 (15fs); Paul Sheehan 0-20 (15fs); Tim Prenter 1-7; Liam Savage, Phelim Savage 0-5 each; Ronan Blair 1-1 (1-0 pen, 1f); Ruairí McCrickard 1-0 (f); Danny Toner, PJ Davidson 0-2 each; Conor O’Prey, John McManus, Gerard Hughes 0-1 each.

Meath’s Christy Ring Cup scorers 2019: Jack Regan 1-55 (42fs, 1 ‘65); Eamonn Ó Donnacadh 3-5; Alan Douglas 1-6; Barry Slevin 0-6; Nicholas Potterton 1-2; James Kelly, Damien Healy 0-5 each; Adam Gannon 0-4; Gavin McGowan 1-1; Cathal McCabe 0-3; Pádraig O’Hanrahan, Stephen Morris 0-2 each; Callum O’Sullivan 0-1.

Christy Ring Cup top scorers 2019:

Jack Regan (Meath) 1-55

Cathal Dolan (Roscommon) 0-32

Cormac O'Doherty (Derry) 2-24

Daithí Sands (Down) 6-7

Ciarán Mathewson (Donegal) 2-19

Meath free-taker Jack Regan is the runaway top scorer of the 2019 Christy Ring Cup, with his 1-55 haul leaving him on almost double the total of his nearest challenger, Roscommon’s Cathal Dolan. Last year’s runner-up Cormac O’Doherty of Derry, who was only overtaken in the 2018 final by London’s Aaron Sheehan, is in third place this time around. Completing the top five are Ciarán Mathewson (Donegal) and goal-poacher Daithí Sands, who has eclipsed his 2018 total (6-5) by hitting 6-7 in Down’s run to the final.