Kevin Anderson returns to Down set-up in new clothes after nine-year absence

The Down squad before last Saturday night's NFL tie with Limerick Picture: Philip Walsh

KEVIN Anderson thought his inter-county days were over with Down. Approaching his 37th birthday, Anderson was introduced in the 57th minute of last Saturday night’s comfortable win over Limerick – not as an outfield player, but as a goalkeeper.

Anderson’s story is quite remarkable. He last played for the Mournemen in 2015 and didn’t envisage wearing the famous red and black again, let alone keeping goal for them.

But that’s exactly how things have unfolded for the affable Annaclone man and illustrates the evolution of Gaelic football and indeed the goalkeeper’s position.

“I was playing out the field with Annaclone and in the first round of the championship against St John’s, our keeper James Fagan hurt his ankle at half-time, so I ended up going from half-forward into nets and played the remainder of the [intermediate] championship in nets,” Anderson explained.

“When Liatroim beat us in the semis Conor [Laverty] asked me to come in and give it a go. It’s just evolved and developed from that. There’s lots of learning for me. It’s new territory but it’s exciting and I’m just trying to embrace it and enjoy it and keeping the head down.”

With Down coasting to a 16-point win over a makeshift Limerick side, Laverty threw Anderson into the fray for John O’Hare for the last quarter, allowing him to resume his inter-county career after a nine-year sabbatical.

“It was probably a good game in the sense that Down had a commanding lead. I just tried to keep the basics right and settle my way into the game, try and get my hands on the ball and move a wee bit out the pitch as well.”

Kevin Anderson
Down Kevin Anderson (left) during his early playing days

Anderson admitted that he never saw a Down encore coming down the tracks after being away from the scene for such a long period.

“The first time I was in with Down was in 2009,” he explained.

“I’m coming 37 now and I wasn’t expecting it. The last time I was involved in a Down squad was in 2015 as an outfield player.

“But you have to embrace these opportunities. There’s a fantastic learning environment there to go into. It’s a very professional set-up and I’m enjoying it. I wasn’t long getting the bug for it and once you’re involved you want to be part of the process.”

Kilcoo’s Niall Kane, last season’s regular ‘keeper, is not part of the 2024 panel, while Mayobridge’s Charlie Smyth is trying to win an American football contract.

Their absences left a bit of a void in the goalkeeping department and with Anderson’s outfield ability, Laverty felt he was a natural fit for what they’re looking for in a ‘keeper.

“John Devine [Down’s goalkeeping coach] is fantastic, super pedigree and really, really good to work with and obviously looking at my circumstances coming in, he’s had his hands full and I’ve enjoyed that whole process of learning.”

O’Hare would appear to be first choice right now, but Anderson hopes to get some game-time and add value to the Down set-up as the season progresses.

“I’ve been sub plenty of times,” Anderson joked. “The last time I was with Down I was on the bench a lot so you have to keep yourself focused and ready to make an impression if you can.

“I’m there to push as hard as I can. Look, if I don’t play it’ll still make John a better goalkeeper by me pushing hard and that’s the whole team ethos at the minute. You push as hard as you can to play but if that doesn’t happen, at least you’re pushing your team-mates on to be better versions of themselves.”

Down's Jonny Flynn in action during the Allianz GAA Football Division Three games with Limerick Picture: Philip Walsh

Anderson has noticed plenty of changes in the inter-county game since he was last involved but still feels there is plenty of excitement and enjoyment despite the bad press it sometimes receives.

“It’s a different game but I still think there’s a lot of exciting football.

“You couldn’t tell me there weren’t some fantastic moves to watch against Limerick, the pace Down have and it was played the Down way – we looked to kick it and to come at angles at pace.

“Yes, there are huge changes in terms of how you’re set up and out of possession, that side of it has changed a lot and being patient on the ball when teams are sitting back in. The last couple of games [against Wicklow and Limerick], teams have sat in on occasions, so it’s trying to find the best way to get our shooters on the ball.

“Every day is a learning day and I’ve learned so much in the last few months from a personal point of view and a keeper point of view.”

Down were in exactly the same position 12 months ago - two wins out of two - but failed to net promotion from Division Three.

Anderson said: “It was important to get a home win in Newry. It does give us a good foundation in the League but there is such a long way to go. It’s up to us to get our feet back on the ground and get a solid week’s training in next week and just go at it hard and be ready for a tough test against Antrim [Sunday, February 18 at Corrigan Park].”