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Where has this Down team come from?

Austin O'Callaghan | 09:16 UK time, Tuesday, 14 September 2010

"Nothing ever comes from nowhere. Somewhere there's a plant that is slowly flowering."

Could it pass for Seamus Heaney? It could certainly pass for a description of Down gaelic football - according to Pete McGrath.

I phoned him last week as part of an attempt to trace the origins of this current collection of Down footballers which has revitalised the football championship in 2010 (with a little help from Kildare and Dublin).

There seems to be an impression out there that this team has suddenly come from nowhere. But from talking to Down folk in the build-up to the final, I have reached the firm conclusion that such an impression is a completely false one.

Down's Jason Brown, Kevin McKernan, Declan Rooney and Peter Fitzpatrick celebrate after their semi-final win over Kildare

Down's Jason Brown, Kevin McKernan, Declan Rooney and Peter Fitzpatrick celebrate after their semi-final win over Kildare

Trace the county's main football achievements over the last decade or so. The clues start to appear soon enough.


A group of teenagers does a lap of honour at Croke Park after beating Mayo by a goal to win the All-Ireland Minor football title. In the middle of the celebrations, a scrawny 16-year-old named Benny Coulter. The Ronans (Sexton and Murtagh), John Clarke and Mark Doran are there too.


Down storm their way to an Ulster Senior football final. With 15 minutes to go in Clones, they're leading Tyrone by nine points. Ever wonder what might have happened to both counties subsequently if Peter Canavan hadn't won that penalty?

On the Down team that day: John Clarke, Ronan Sexton, Benny Coulter, Dan Gordon, Ronan Murtagh and.....yes... the 2010 manager came on as a sub (J McCartan)!


Down Minors lose an Ulster final at Croke Park but come through the Under-18 back door to win the All-Ireland title that September. James Colgan and Marty Clarke, fresh from their MacRory Cup exploits with St Louis Kilkeel, are part of that side. So too are Peter Fitzpatrick, Conor Garvey, Kevin Duffin and Paul McComiskey.

That same year, Paddy O'Rourke guides the county under-21 side to an Ulster title.

Ambrose Rogers, Mark Poland, Aidan Carr and Declan Alder are on the team sheet.


Abbey CBS, Newry win a classic Hogan Cup final after extra-time against Colm O'Rourke's St Pat's Navan. Team captain? Kevin McKernan. Maybe he got his ideas about those surging forward runs at number 6 from Kevin Dyas that day...

2008 & 2009

Down win two consecutive Ulster under-21 titles and in 2009, under Pete McGrath, lose narrowly, and dramatically, to Cork in the All-Ireland decider. Kevin McKernan, James Colgan, Conor McGinn, Peter Fitzpatrick, Paul McComiskey, Kevin Duffin, Conor Garvey, Conor Laverty, Luke Howard, Jason Brown, Cathal Murdock, Kevin Anderson and Paul Devlin all featured on one or both of these panels. That's half of Sunday's senior panel. A fit Timmy Hanna would surely have been part of the set-up too this weekend.

The above list isn't scientific. It ignores the McKenna Cup win in 2008, the Down contribution to Sigerson Cup titles for Queen's and UUJ, and the more recent colleges and schools successes of St Colman's Newry and St Malachy's Castlewellan.

And we haven't even mentioned Danny Hughes (my nomination for player of the year) Kalum King or Damien Rafferty yet.

But If this is Down football coming out of a so-called low period, I can't wait to see what the high one looks like.


  • Comment number 1.

    As a Fermanagh man, if we'd have been given Down in the draw at any stage in the last ten years I'd have been reasonably confident of my team's ability to produce a victory. You've pointed out that they've had the footballers, but it takes more than individuals to make a team. From that point of view, this Down team has come from nowhere.


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