Down star Gerard McGovern hopes to end losing streak against Armagh
GERARD McGovern was born in 1993, so Down haven't won a Championship game against auld enemy Armagh in his lifetime.
The last time the Mournemen got one over the Orchard county was back in 1992 when a James McCartan goal inspired the then All-Ireland champions to a six-point win. Since then Armagh have won five on-the-trot and Burren full-back McGovern and his team-mates are tasked with ending that losing streak at Pairc Esler on Sunday.
McGovern will be up against his workmate at mac-interiors Brendan Donaghy who looks likely to line-out at centre half-back for Armagh.
It is one of thousands of friendships that will be put on hold on the field and in the stands.
“We'll have to leave it aside for a couple of hours on Sunday, but it'll all be just for the game,” he said.
“Down and Armagh haven't played in the Championship since 2011 and I remember the slagging that was going around back then. There'll be plenty of craic but hopefully we'll get the upperhand come the end of it.
“Mac-interiors are one of the main sponsors of Armagh but there's a good contingent of Down ones here too, so I'll have plenty at my back supporting me. I'll not be on my own anyway.”
Armagh's current winning run is dwarfed by the 10-game streak they established between 1914 and 1937. McGovern rightly rejects the suggestion that Down might be due a win.
“In football you're not really due anything,” he said.
“You have to earn what you get yourself. In years gone by there's been many a good Down team and on their day they have been unfortunate.
“We have a good bunch of lads at the minute and everyone works hard. There's no real individuals on the team, we all play together and hopefully that's on show on Sunday.
“There was a lot of criticism of the team (in 2016) but this year we have stepped away from that – we've a year under our belt and we're hopefully wiser for it.”
McGovern's only previous run-in with Armagh was in an extraordinary minor championship match in 2011 that finished 5-4 to 3-11 in favour of the Orchard youngsters.
Ryan Johnston, Caolan Mooney and Darragh O'Hanlon also played in red and black that day while Armagh included Ethan Rafferty, Aaron Findon and Ciaron O'Hanlon.
“I don't have fond memories of that game,” McGovern admitted.
“We were 11 points up at half-time and took the foot off the gas and Armagh came out flying in the second half and we were found wanting. Shay McCartan (part of the Northern Ireland soccer panel) scored two goals for us, fair play to him – he's a boy we wouldn't mind having available for Sunday.”
McGovern stands around 6”1' and he can expect to be tested by high ball into a lanky Armagh full-forward line that will include the likes of Stefan Campbell and Andrew Murnin.
“They were the top scorers in all four divisions in the League,” he said.
“They are probably a bit like ourselves – on their day, when they played to their potential, they were as dangerous as anybody. They'll be disappointed that they didn't come out of Division Three but they put up massive scores in some of those games and that shows how dangerous they are. They have plenty of boys that can cause damage.”
Pairc Esler is expected to be full of colour and atmosphere on Sunday. A packed stand and full terraces on the other three sides should turn the ground into a bear pit.
“I think it'll be split 50-50 in the crowd,” said McGovern.
“It's our home patch and it'll be a special occasion because it has been so long since Down has played an Ulster Championship game at home.
“There's no point in going into any game not confident. We're going in knowing we have near enough a full panel of boys to pick from – hopefully we're on the right side of it on Sunday.”