Down's Gerdie Collins excited by derby duel
DOWN defender Gerdie Collins has said that an Ulster Championship meeting with Armagh is the perfect way to refocus minds after the county’s annus horribilis in 2016.
The Mournemen’s record last season in all competitions read played 12, lost 11 with the sole win coming against St Mary’s in January’s Dr McKenna Cup.
While there was much ridicule of the decision to host the provincial draws just 12 days after Dublin’s All-Ireland final replay win over Mayo, Collins was happy to hear the first sounds of the new season – and the fact that they were paired against their neighbours only cranked up the excitement for him.
“Obviously both counties will be looking to put things right after last year,” said the RGU Downpatrick clubman.
“For Down to go through last year without winning a competitive game was just unacceptable.
“Regardless of the fact that we were playing in Division One, it just wasn’t good enough.”
The prospect of getting one over their rivals was good enough reason for Collins to enjoy the draw, but the fact that Pairc Esler will be in line to host an Ulster opener for the first time in 18 years added to the positivity.
The county’s 1-15 to 0-14 victory over Antrim in 1999 was the last time that the Newry venue hosted Down’s Championship opener as Lady Luck mocked them year after year as the balls were pulled out of the hat at the RTE studios.
“It’s a good thing getting a home draw, that’s the first time since 1999 I think,” Collins continued.
“With Down and Armagh being such big rivals, it certainly whets the appetite.
“There’ll be a full house in Newry and it’s something to really look forward to.
“It was crazy that it had gone on that long and nothing had been done about it, but it is what it is and now we’ve got the chance to play in Newry.
“The fact that it’s a local derby only makes it better, you can’t beat that.”
The match with the Orchard county is likely to be eight months away and with the McKenna Cup draw yet to be conducted, there’s a strong argument that it’s too early to be making the pairings for next season’s Championship.
Collins, however, believes that there is still a real buzz about the fixtures despite the long wait.
“You do get excited about it as a player,” he said.
“Obviously the All-Ireland is just over, but our season was over back in June so we’re chomping at the bit to get back at it.
“It’s coming into the winter months alright, but whenever you see the draw come out it does get you excited again.”
Collins was a starter in Down’s wretched 2-22 to 0-9 Ulster loss to Monaghan last year, and he came off the bench in their shock Qualifier loss to Longford.
He readily accepts that it was nowhere near good enough, but he also believes that manager Eamonn Burns will be in a better position to bring them on in 2017.
“The management will have had a bit longer to prepare by the time the McKenna Cup comes around,” said Collins.
“Last year obviously with Jim McCorry leaving and Eamonn coming in, it was left late for him.
“There’s a lot of work going on now to identify new talent across the county.
“From what I’ve heard a lot are being looked at so they are searching hard so hopefully there will be some new players.
“Then there are the likes of Jerome Johnston and Ryan Johnston who we didn’t have last year, Benny McArdle.
“Those boys are to come back in and that will be a big help for us.”
The rest of the Ulster Championship draw saw Monaghan and Fermanagh paired together in the preliminary round with the winners going on to meet Mattie McGleenan’s Cavan.
Reigning champions Tyrone will head back to Celtic Park to face Derry in a repeat of last year’s quarter-final while Antrim face an ominous trip to Donegal.
Ulster Senior Football Championship
Monaghan v Fermanagh
Derry v Tyrone
Donegal v Antrim
Down v Armagh
Cavan v Monaghan/Fermanagh
Derry/Tyrone v Donegal/Antrim
Down/Armagh v Cavan/Monaghan/Fermanagh
Munster Senior Football Championship
Cork v Waterford
Limerick v Clare
Kerry v Limerick/Clare
Tipperary v Cork/Waterford
Conancht Senior Football Championship
Sligo v New York
Mayo v Sligo/New York
Leitrim v London
Mayo/Sligo/New York v Galway
Leitrim/London v Roscommon
Leinster Senior Football Championship
Louth v Wicklow
Laois v Longford
Carlow v Wexford
Louth/Wicklow v Meath
Laois/Longford v Kildare
Carlow/Wexford v Dublin
Offaly v Westmeath
Louth/Wicklow/Meath v Laois/Longford/Kildare
Carlow/Wexford/Dublin v Offaly/Westmeath
Munster Senior Hurling Championship
Cork v Tipperary
Limerick v Clare
Waterford v Cork/Tipperary
Leinster Senior Hurling Championship
Galway v Dublin
Group team v Offaly
Group team v Wexford
Kilkenny v Group team/Wexford
Galway/Dublin v Group team/Offaly
Laois, Westmeath, Kerry, Meath