Andy Watters: Them and their five Sam Maguires... Down confidence unsettles Armagh folk

Farewell Noel, Sod’s Law, Clones Tractor Runs and Emmett’s best ever Down team

Daniel Guinness looks on enviously as Rian O'Neill of Armagh celebrates after scoring his side's fourth goal last year. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Daniel Guinness looks on enviously as Rian O'Neill of Armagh celebrates after scoring his side's fourth goal last year. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile (Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

NOEL Doran said farewell last week. Sorry to see him go. As well as him being such an astute guiding light as editor, I will miss our chats about Leeds United and also that feeling of satisfaction as I listened to him lament Down’s latest setback.

Although they did make it to an All-Ireland final through the backdoor, in Noel’s 25 years as head honcho in The Irish News, Down never won an Ulster Championship.

This week, as time ticks closer to Down versus Armagh in Clones on Saturday, an uneasy feeling came over me.

“They couldn’t go and win one now, could they?” I’m thinking.

“Just after Noel has left the building.”

Life has a way of working out like that sometimes, doesn’t it? Sod’s Law and all that.

Our new editor - Chris Sherrard – is an Armagh man. What better way for him to start than for the Orchard county to win the Anglo-Celt for the first time since 2008. An alternative Sod’s Law?

Armagh trounced Down last year – beat them out the gate. But you never know with Down. There is a confidence/arrogance/swagger about Down people - them and their five bloody All-Irelands - that unsettles Armagh folk.

If Down get going on Saturday, Armagh could get jumpy, the favourites’ tag could unsettle them. A couple of Down scores, a couple of Armagh wides. Nothing in it at the break, then Down get a goal…

Don’t panic! Don’t panic!

It’ll be worth watching and I’m looking forward to going to Clones which remains a special place for me. I remember a Sunday last year - I was tired and a bit groggy after a family do the night before. Getting into the car I had a word with myself: ‘I’m going to Clones here.’

My head cleared – how could you not feel lucky going to a match in Clones? And getting paid for it!

From going there as a kid, to playing in the band at half-time, to standing on the Hill with my mates… that attitude is engrained in me but the old place took a serious blow to its prestige last year when Armagh and Down played there – the traffic jams, no parking, old school facilities, getting soaked…

I know fans of both counties who vowed never to return and they won’t be there on Saturday evening when Down and Armagh meet again. People will vote with their feet.

Last year must have been a wake-up call for the town. Big games must bring a lot of revenue into Clones and if the town is serious about keeping inter-county Championship action there it was obvious they had to get their act together and it seems that lessons have been learned.

You shudder to think of the carnage that would have ensued if the ‘Truck, tractor and car run’ planned for Clones on Saturday had gone ahead - thankfully it has been moved to Sunday. Common sense has prevailed and hopefully Saturday will go smoothly.

The great Sean O'Neill is full forward on Emmett Haughian's team
The great Sean O'Neill is full forward on Emmett Haughian's team

One man who will definitely be there is Emmett Haughian. On Tuesday I had the pleasure of a couple of hours in his company. I’ve met a few but I’ve never met a more hardcore Down supporter. Truly different gravy of the red and black variety.

Armagh fans can give Emmett all the stick they want, and I’d say he took a fair bit in Clones last year, but like all GAA rivalries, it is good-natured and all he has to do is put his hand up with fingers and thumb spread and ask: ‘How many have yiz?’ When you know, you know.

At the end of our conversation, Emmett – who hasn’t missed a Down game for over 50 years – wanted to give me his best Down 15 over that time.

I asked him if he had written it down. He hadn’t, he called it out to me off the top of his head without a note in sight.

Here’s what he came up with:

“Any man who wore a Down jersey qualified for selection – whether he had an All-Ireland or whether he didn’t – and my team has a few non-medal winners. I didn’t always pick players in the position they played most of their games for Down but I facilitated certain players I couldn’t leave out.

Goalkeeper: The contenders are: Neil Collins, Eddie McKay and Brendan McVeigh. I had to go for Neil Collins.

Right corner-back: You had the great George Lavery and Brendan Sloan but I had to find a place for DJ Kane. DJ is number two.

Full-back: You had the great Dan McCartan and you had a man who didn’t win an All-Ireland but played for Down for a long time – Paddy Kennedy of Glen. My full-back is Paddy Kennedy.

Left corner-back: Number four for me had no equal as a left-back the length and breadth of Ireland so I didn’t have any other nominees only Tom O’Hare of the ‘Bridge.

Right half-back: You had the man who brought the Sam Maguire back across the border – Kevin Mussen and Ray McConville of the 1968 team but I had to go for Patsy O’Hagan, God be good to him.

Centre half-back: The nominees were Willie Doyle, Dan McCartan and Barry Breen. It was a very tough call but ‘Big Dan’ gets it.

Left half-back: Barry Breen, Kevin O’Neill and Joe Lennon stood out for me. Joe played in the middle of the field as well but I went for Joe in the number seven position.

Midfield: There are a number of contenders but Down were never blessed in all their All-Irelands with great midfielders other than ‘Arkle’ – Colm McAlarney.

Another man that gave great service to the county and he played in many positions. I couldn’t exclude him – my beloved nephew Big Ambrose Rogers.

Right half-forward: I had a problem with right half-forward and right corner-forward. There are two men competing for this spot and I couldn’t play them both in the corner – so I split them. One has two All-Irelands, the other has none, but I went with Mickey Linden at 10.

Centre half-forward: You had ‘king James’ McCartan and Greg Blayney but there was only one Greg Blayney so he gets the number 11 jersey.

Left half-forward: You can talk until you’re blue in the face but this man had no equal – Paddy ‘Mo’ Doherty.

Right corner-forward: At top of the right is the man who is competing with Mickey Linden. He didn’t win an All-Ireland but he deserves his place – Benny Coulter. I had to find a place for Benny.

Full-forward: The Prince, the king, the genius that was Sean O’Neill. There were no other contenders.

Left corner-forward: I couldn’t find a place for oul James but I found a place for young James – Seamus Og McCartan. James McCartan what a player but I couldn’t find a place for his da.

There are many great subs, the likes of Barry Breen, Liam Austin, Daddy James McCartan, Conor Deegan, Leo Murphy, Ray McConville… There are numerous others you could add.

Emmett Haughian Down XV

Neil Collins

DJ Kane, Paddy Kennedy, Tom O’Hare

Patsy O’Hagan, Dan McCartan, Joe Lennon

Colm McAlarney, Ambrose Rogers snr

Mickey Linden, Greg Blayney, Paddy ‘Mo’ Doherty

Benny Coulter, Sean O’Neill, James McCartan jnr

Subs: Barry Breen, Liam Austin, James McCartan snr, Conor Deegan, Leo Murphy, Ray McConville