Preview: Christy Ring Cup Final
Sunday November 22
Christy Ring Cup Final
Down v Kildare, Croke Park, 4pm
Two former Christy Ring Cup winners will be competing to become the 2020 champions when Down and Kildare contest Sunday’s final at Croke Park.
2013 winners Down are in their second consecutive decider after losing to Meath last year, while Kildare have reached this stage for the second time in three years. Kildare’s 2018 success was their second at this level and while they surprisingly bowed out at the group stage in their title defence, they have bounced back in the delayed 2020 campaign. Remarkably, given these counties’ ever-present status in the Christy Ring Cup, this is their first meeting in its 16th year.
Their paths have crossed several times of late in the league, however, with Down avenging last year’s loss to edge out Kildare in the final round of group games in March, in what was effectively a play-off to decide who finished in the table. Ronan Sheehan’s side would have to wait seven and a half months to play the Allianz Hurling League Division 2B Final, but they made it count by defeating Derry, before repeating that victory a fortnight later to get their Christy Ring run off to a good start. Kildare made their return to competitive action the same day with a seven-point win over Wicklow.
The semi-finals took place last Saturday, when Kildare were comfortable winners against Roscommon, while Down managed one of the stand-out results of the hurling year by knocking out Offaly. Stephen Keith’s starring role in a penalty shoot-out saw Down claim a famous victory over the competition favourites that stretched their winning run to seven games. Having seen off Michael Fennelly’s Offaly, this will be the second week in a row for the Mourne men to face opponents managed by a former All-Ireland winner with Kilkenny, as David Herity is in his second year at the helm with Kildare.
Down’s 3-33 en route to the final gives them an average score of 21 points, while Kildare have racked up 5-38 (26.5 points per game). Kildare have conceded just 2-19, 14 points less than Down’s 1-36.
Down have an experienced last line of defence in their captain Stephen Keith, while their back line is anchored by 2019 Champion 15 award winner Caolán Taggart and the classy Conor Woods, who has returned to full fitness after a couple of injury-interrupted years. Dónal Hughes, Pearse Óg McCrickard, Daithí and Eoghan Sands and free-taker Oisín MacManus are regular scorers for Down, who also have Paul Sheehan (who came on as a sub in their last two games) available again after injury. They can still call on five players from their dramatic defeat of Kerry back in 2013.
The Kildare team last weekend showed seven changes from the starting line-up for the 2018 final, while Niall Ó Muineacháin and Paul Divilly remain involved from the 15 that started their breakthrough win six years ago. Brian Byrne (7-37) and Jack Sheridan (7-24) were prolific for Kildare throughout the league and they have maintained that form with a combined 4-21 in the championship. James Burke and Divilly also provide scoring threats, while Niall Ó Muineacháin, Rian Boran and Kevin Whelan give the Lilywhites a good platform from the half-back line.
Both teams have already secured promotion to the Joe McDonagh Cup for 2021, but the silverware on offer at the end of a unique campaign means there will be plenty to play for in the second part of Sunday’s double-header at Croke Park.
KILDARE: Paddy McKenna; Simon Leacy, John Doran, Cian Shanahan; Niall O'Muineachain, Rian Boran, Kevin Whelan; Cathal Dowling, Paul Divilly; James Burke, Jack Sheridan, Conor Dolwing; Tadhg Forde, Brian Byrne, David Slattery.
Down’s Christy Ring Cup scorers 2020: Oisín MacManus 0-14 (13fs, 1 ’65), Dónal Hughes 1-3, Paul Sheehan 0-6 (6fs), Eoghan Sands 1-2, Daithí Sands 1-1, Pearse Óg McCrickard 0-4 (1 s-l), Conor Woods 0-2 (1f), Barry Trainor 0-1.
Kildare’s Christy Ring Cup scorers 2020: Jack Sheridan 4-9 (1-0 pen, 6fs, 165), Brian Byrne 0-12 (7f, 1 ’65), James Burke 1-5, Cathal Dowling, Conor Dowling, Niall Ó Muineacháin, Paul Divilly 0-2 each, Shane Ryan, Kevin Whelan, David Slattery, Rian Boran 0-1 each.
CHRISTY RING CUP TOP SCORERS
Cathal Dolan (Roscommon) 2-25
Eoghan Cahill (Offaly) 0-27
Christy Moorehouse (Wicklow) 2-18
Jack Sheridan (Kildare) 4-9
Cormac O'Doherty (Derry) 0-14
Oisin McManus (Down) 0-14
Last year’s runner-up Cathal Dolan is top of the 2020 Christy Ring Cup scoring charts after hitting 2-25 in three games as Roscommon reached their second consecutive semi-final. Offaly’s Eoghan Cahill and Wicklow’s Christy Moorehouse are second and third after passing the 20-point mark in just two outings each, while Kildare’s top marksman Jack Sheridan has 4-9 to his name ahead of Sunday’s final. Down free-taker Oisín MacManus currently shares fifth place with his Derry counterpart Cormac O’Doherty.