GAA Football

Gerard McGovern a consistent presence in Down defence

Down's Gerard McGovern trying to get close to Monaghan's Conor McManus last year. Picture Colm O'Reilly
Sean Mahoney

EVEN when Down endured the worst of bad results last season they were honing their craft for a day like Sunday.

They are aware that Armagh will throw the proverbial kitchen sink at them, albeit after the initial probing.

So to play an Ulster Championship quarter-final in their own backyard after such a long wait makes this is a game the Mourne men must win.

But even when Down went through the difficult run of results they had the one constant in full-back Gerard McGovern.

McGovern was drafted in at the start of last season after his outstanding performances for his club Burren and he has been a rock at full-back up until he suffered concussion in their League win against Derry in Celtic Park.

Last year Down got a rude awaking to Division One with Donegal winning 3-15 to 0-07 in Pairc Esler but even among the avalanche of scores McGovern still impressed. Michael Murphy gave a masterclass in kicking that evening with a personal tally of 0-8, but he didn't score from play with McGovern hot on his heels.

Kerry's Aidan Fitzgerald scored one point from play against the Burren defender, Dublin's four-time All-Ireland winner Kevin McManaman scored only two points, while in that infamous Championship defeat to Monaghan McGovern curbed former All-Star Conor McManus to only two points from play.

And the Burren man feels that his experience gained over the past season and half should stand to him come Sunday's clash against rivals Armagh.

"One thing that has come through from last year is that a lot of players have now played against Division One teams and at least we have that experience and everyone is drawing from that heading into Sunday's game," said McGovern.

"Armagh are no pushovers either, they have plenty of experience in their forward lines but at least that is one thing I gained from last year.

"Playing against Division One opposition week in week out but even looking at this year, there is not a whole lot in it between the top teams anymore and although Armagh failed to get out of Division Three, they have still boys among their forwards who can do a lot of damage.

"They will be treated the same as any Division One team and it will not be an easy game by any means. "

At over six-foot McGovern is a traditional full-back, strong in the air, hard in the tackle and someone who can snuff out danger. He will likely be given the job to mark Stefan Campbell or Andrew Murnin and but his main concern is regaining a starting position, having missed the end of the league after that knock to the head.

"I haven't played in too many other positions throughout my footballing years. I was tried up in full-forward and half-forward line and it didn't really work as well," said McGovern.

"But full-back is the only position I really know but whenever you have boys like Kevin McKernan and Darren O'Hagan around me it makes my task a whole lot easier than what it might be if I had no experience around me."

Still in only his second season it is obvious the pride McGovern feels for representing his county and he is confident that the drawn game against Cork puts Down on the front foot on Sunday.

"We were still enjoying it last year even when we were getting beat but for me personally I was still enjoying my football," said McGovern.

"Whenever you get the opportunity to play for your county you are obviously going to take it and while we were getting beat I still enjoyed testing myself by playing against quality opposition. And it has been the same this year, only we got a couple of wins under our belt this season.

"The squad has evolved since that result against Cork because of how well the lads played in those last five or ten minutes. It showed that we were always in the game and that we were never beaten until the final whistle and a couple of boys stepped up to the mark and took their chances when they came."

McGovern works for Newry based firm Mac Interiors alongside Armagh defender Brendan Donaghy but he isn't expecting any favours on Sunday and he feels that the Down team have made strides this season.

"Confidence is flying in the team and compared to last year the competition for places is serious," said McGovern.

"You could pick up to 28 boys you think will definitely start but of course only 15 can. The boys have been pushing each other on every week in training.

"We have definitely improved from last year as the likes of Barry O'Hagan has stepped up and it looks like Jerome has got over his injury so competition for places is massive again.

"We have Connaire Harrison and Donal O'Hare and any amount of boys that can play in the forward line and it is that competition for places that is pushing us on."

Much has been made of the lack of Ulster Championship games in Pairc Esler and while McGovern is raring to go he doesn't feel any extra pressure.

"I enjoy playing the games in Pairc Esler but I won't read too much into it," he said.

"It has been a long wait, I can remember back in 2008 in that replay against Tyrone I was a young fella standing in the crowd. I think that was one of Kevin's first years playing county football and I always thought that I would love to be involved in those types of games.

"It is the type of game everyone looks forward to and I expect a big crowd in Pairc Esler on Sunday."

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GAA Football