'I know what he’s feeling and it’s a difficult one': Longford boss Paddy Christie ready to renew acquaintances with Conor Laverty

Conor Laverty's Down welcome Longford to Pairc Esler on Saturday night, hoping to keep their promotion hopes alive. Picture by Philip Walsh
Conor Laverty's Down welcome Longford to Pairc Esler on Saturday night, hoping to keep their promotion hopes alive. Picture by Philip Walsh

PADDY Christie’s past involvement with Burren offered a small window into Down football, and the ongoing rivalry with the county’s dominant force for the guts of the previous decade.

The St Mary’s were defending champions when Paddy O’Rourke asked Christie to lend some of his coaching expertise to the cause in 2019, having ended the Magpies’ push for seven in-a-row the year before.

When Burren and Kilcoo met in the last eight of that year’s championship, it was considered the de facto final by most observers. All of sudden, though, the mood changed around the place.

“All I was aware of was that it was a big game,” smiles the former Dublin captain.

“The training stepped up a level automatically when they knew they were playing Kilcoo, and I’m sure Kilcoo were the same…”

A replay was required to separate them in the end, the tightness of those games reflecting pre-match predictions as Mickey Moran’s men went on to regain the Frank O’Hare Cup.

Having trailed by four points with eight minutes left, Conor Laverty was central to Kilcoo’s dramatic comeback in the second game against Burren.

Already with three points from play to his name, he swapped passes with Anthony Morgan to set the youngster in on goal. When Morgan’s run was halted by Kevin McKernan, Paul Devlin converted the penalty.

A few minutes later Laverty hit the net after Shealan Johnston’s effort came off the upright – there would be no coming back from Burren.

On Saturday night Christie will face Laverty again when his Longford side take on Down in Newry.

Although Christie will renew acquaintances with the likes of Liam Kerr and Peter Fegan from Burren, it is no surprise that a strong Kilcoo spine backbones the Mourne County - men Laverty still counts as team-mates and friends, with the addition of Eugene Branagan a few weeks back taking the tally of Magpies in the panel to nine.

It is a situation Christie recognises.

“I remember managing the Dublin minors and having seven Ballymun fellas on the panel of 35,” he said.

“Now, Ballymun’s team had won the Dublin feile, the All-Ireland feile, the U15 championship, the minor championship… won the whole way, so they were the best team by a country mile.

"But there was always that thing hanging around, which is difficult to deal with.

“I always felt they had to play a little bit better than other people because people would be saying ‘aw sure he’s the manager, it’s his own club, no wonder they’re playing’. I was hard enough on a few of our players, maybe because I felt – unfairly so – that I was in the spotlight with that sort of thing.

“Any manager would want to have the best players available to you, and without doubt the Kilcoo fellas have shown they’re some of the best club players in the country. I know what he’s feeling and it’s a difficult one.”

And while Laverty’s Mournemen are still in with an outside chance of promotion, Longford find themselves battling to avoid the drop to Division Four after picking up just one point from five games so far.

The passing of Offaly manager Liam Kearns – against whom Christie pitted wits just a fortnight ago – served as a swift reminder of football’s place in the bigger picture, though the Ballymun man has long had cause to keep the game in perspective.

“Ah it’s very sad about Liam Kearns… at half-time myself and the three selectors were talking in the tunnel, and he came by and tapped me on the back and says ‘Jesus, it’s a great game, isn’t it?’ We maybe weren’t thinking like that at that point! But when you reflect it actually was a really good game.

“Look I won’t lie and say any of us involved in management enjoy losing consistently, but I don’t think I would be getting too overly bogged down with where we [Longford] find ourselves.

“If you’re thinking about long-term projects, you can’t just be living off the next game, and that’s the way this can become. If winning is the only thing that defines whether something has value, well then for 31 counties every year you’re a loser.

“So when I agreed to become involved, it was about looking at something in the long-term and trying to help improve Longford football over the period of a few years - setting in place something that somebody else could maybe take on.

“Putting in foundations can initially cause disruption and maybe in a short-term way mightn’t be very helpful for results, but somebody has to put the building blocks in.

“So you look and say, right, what do we want players in Longford to be able to do? How do we want them to conduct themselves? How do we want them to live their lives? And you’re hoping that when you do all these things that eventually winning will follow.”