Result in Cork would be huge boost heading into the break says Gerard Collins
GERARD Collins needs little reminding of the last time Down made the long trip to Cork. You have to go back to 1994, and that year's All-Ireland semi-final, for the Mourne County's last victory over the Rebels, with some bad beatings in between.
But there was one dramatic draw in there that felt every bit as good as a win.
Heading to Pairc Ui Rinn on the final day of the 2017 Division Two campaign, Eamonn Burns's side needed a point to give themselves a chance of staying up.
Given the recent history between the two counties, the omens weren't good, but the Mournemen battled back from four down to secure the draw they needed to survive.
“That was a good bus ride home now… the less said about that the better,” smiled the RGU Downpatrick defender in the wake of last Saturday night's crucial win over Ulster rivals Derry.
“The first three games of this campaign were always going to be huge, we got the win tonight and we'll reset this week for the long trip down to Cork and hopefully we have something to show for it at the end of the game.
“The bench made a big difference there tonight - Sean Dornan's fetch there at the end, what a catch it was. We just knew if we stuck in and were patient, the chances would come for us.
“There's a break after this, that lets you get a couple of injuries cleared up, the likes of James Guinness, Connaire Harrison, these boys will be back in a couple of weeks' time, so if we can get something out of the Cork game, it really leaves us in a good place.”
Jerome Johnston was the hero of the hour three years ago, landing a late 45 to close the gap at the death before converting a difficult free to level and send the Down support home happy.
And the Kilcoo man stood up when most needed against the Oak Leafs too. Despite only returning to county training on Thursday after the disappointment of the Magpies' All-Ireland Club final defeat to Corofin, Johnston looked sharp throughout and banged over a crucial score to help Down across the line at the end.
“He has that big match mentality,” said boss Paddy Tally.
“We know Jerome Johnston's a super footballer, but he's coming off the back of a big club year and it was about getting that balance between whether he was right to go into that game, but he trained this week and he was superb. We felt he had to play when he was playing that well.
“To pick off that score at that moment in time was so important for us. Him and Paul [Devlin] had a rough few weeks there, it'll give them a good lift and hopefully lift the spirits of a few other people too.”
Fellow Magpies Aaron Morgan and Ceilum Doherty also rejoined the Down panel, while others could follow in the weeks to come. And Collins admits Kilcoo's exploits had helped spread belief through the panel.
“It certainly does,” he said.
“Obviously there are club rivalries in Down but you have to hand it to them, what they did this year was phenomenal, to break the Ulster duck… it shows the talent is always there in Down, it's maybe just that belief that's missing.
“But having those boys back in is a great boost, hopefully it can drag the whole thing forward.”