Down hurling boss blasts away glitch in fixtures 'computer'
BY the time Down hurlers get the ferry to cross Strangford Lough on their way home from Wexford next Sunday night, they will have covered almost 1,000 miles, spent 22 hours on a coach and had two overnights in the first two weekends of the National Hurling League.
In another example of how unfair Croke Park's fixtures computer can be, Down were drawn away in their first two games. To add to the load, they were paired with Division 2 favourites, Clare and Wexford.
They lost by 20 points to Clare in Ennis last Sunday and face another major challenge against Wexford in Wexford Park next Sunday.
It's the toughest possible start and has left Down wondering why, alone among the 16 teams in the top two tiers, they were drawn away in the opening two rounds.
"It seems the Croke Park computer doesn't like us very much. But even if it didn't, you would think someone would tell it that it had to behave itself. It's very hard to understand why this would happen," said manager Gerard Monan.
The usual explanation for apparent fixture discrepancies is that teams who are promoted or relegated can be unlucky, but that should not apply in Down's case as they were also in Division 2 last year.
As the only county where most of its players begin and end their journey with a ferry crossing, Down face an added burden, but clearly it hasn't been taken into account by the fixture-makers.
"Wexford and Offaly played up here last year, so we would have loved to get Clare this time. They would have been a big draw and it would have been good for hurling in the area, but instead we had to travel to Ennis and now we're off to Wexford," said Monan.
Down, who were runners-up to Carlow in last year's Christy Ring Cup, travelled to Ennis last Saturday and will also travel to the south east on the day before the game to give themselves the best possible chance of doing themselves justice against a Wexford team which has promotion very much in its sights.
Down will be at home to Carlow in the third round of the League, followed by another trip south to Kildare, leaving them with three away games from their opening four ties. They were also away (to Laois) in the first round last year.
Laois were drawn at home in their first two games this year, as were Limerick in Division 1.
While Down hurlers have cause for complaint, Fermanagh footballers have an even stronger case for alleging victimisation. Bizarrely, they are away for four of their seven League games for the seventh time in eight seasons.
They complained about the inexplicable imbalance when the fixtures were published last October but, despite having it raised at Central Council, their schedule was not amended.