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Hurling and camogie

Where are they now? Former Down hurler, and 1992 Allstar, Gerard McGrattan...

Down's Gerard McGrattan in action against Antrim in the drawn Ulster final clash between the counties in 2004. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran

Age: 45

Club: Portaferry

Position: Wing forward

When did you play for Down? 1992-2004

What do you do nowadays?

I’m an industrial engineering manager in Bombardier. I’m here 28 years, since I left school.

Are you still involved in hurling?

I’ve coached the U14s in Portaferry the last two years. I’ve been coaching since I stopped playing more or less – I coached the county minors for a year too. I was juvenile secretary with the club for a long time after I finished playing, then I was treasurer and club secretary for a while.

What do you remember about your first game for Down?

It was the 1992 Ulster Championship semi-final against Derry at Casement Park, a pretty straightforward win. Down had a fairly strong team and Derry were only really starting to compete. I only got into the team because somebody got injured.

At that time you would’ve had the likes of Chris Mageean, Noel Keith, Danny Hughes, Marty Mallon, Ciaran Coulter, the Blaneys [Michael and Greg], Paddy Braniff, Kevin Coulter… it was an established team then. In those days, if you got into the team, you were lucky to get into it.

Sean McGuinness was able to come in from the outside and bind everything together and get the best players playing. You were playing Ulster finals in front of big crowds, playing National League at a high level. It was a higher profile – people wanted to play for the county then.

I played county right through form 14, through minors, U21s right up so, from my point of view, it was something I always wanted to do. And at that time the goal would always have been to get to Croke Park, to an All-Ireland semi-final.

What’s your best memory from your playing days?

There’s not one day necessarily – the day we played Cork at Croke Park in an All-Ireland semi-final was good, but all the days were good. We won an Ulster minor title in 1989 and then going on to play Offaly at Croke Park was special.

In 1992 we beat Antrim in the Ulster final, and that was probably the breakthrough. There was thousands coming back into the Ards after we won that day, and that was a big occasion.

The Cork game was a great experience, and there was a moment after half-time when we got a goal and pulled it really close but they got a goal straight after – it was so quick they didn’t even catch it on TV.

But just to compete, and to be playing at that level, it showed how far that team had come. We lost, but I remember the sea of red and black in the crowd at Croke Park when we came off at the end. The support was fantastic.

And the worst?

I could write a book. I lost Ulster club finals, county finals, an U21 county final. The year Derry beat us [2000], when they made the breakthrough, we had them and that was a hard one to take. I think I was the captain of the team that year too.

You won an Allstar in 1992, your first year on the team. What were your feelings at the time?

I was surprised. At my age, I was only 20 then, you probably didn’t appreciate it. You look back on it now and think, yeah, but then it was more like an overnight success. I played a few games, played in an All-Ireland semi-final and then became an Allstar. It all just happened very quickly.

There were a lot of other players in our squad who had been playing for years and probably should’ve had an Allstar too. It would’ve been nice if somebody else from that team had been rewarded.

Down's Gary Savage was 'a great trainer and great craic', according to former Down star Gerard McGrattan

Biggest character you played with?

‘Gazza’ [Gary Savage] was a great character in the changing room and on training weekends – a great trainer and great craic. There were other boys who were very focused and just mucked in with everybody. When I came into that team at 20, I was looking up to every one of them, whether they were from my own club or if they were from Ballygalget or Ballycran.

Glad you played in your era rather than the modern day?

The way players are developed and conditioned might have prevented a lot more injuries from my end. In those days you just played - it was very rarely you’d have had a weights programme over the winter. You trained your two or three nights a week and played your match.

Any regrets?

The injuries that happened after 1992. I missed two years playing – I got a cruciate injury at a training weekend in Galway in ’93 and then had three knee operations in the next two years before coming back in ’95.

In those days, cruciates weren’t as widely known about, and took a bit longer to diagnose. The rehab was serious; you were going to the physio before work, then after work. It was a slog alright.

But, in terms of playing, I can’t say I’ve any regrets. I think I was lucky with what I achieved, coming into a team that was able to give me the opportunity to perform the way I did.

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