'It’s all I can think about, to tell you the truth': Down ace Havern relishing Croke Park clash

Pat Havern battles for possession with Cavan's Killian Clarke during Saturday's Tailteann Cup quarter-final clash at Kingspan Breffni. Picture by Adrian Donohoe
Pat Havern battles for possession with Cavan's Killian Clarke during Saturday's Tailteann Cup quarter-final clash at Kingspan Breffni. Picture by Adrian Donohoe

TRY telling Pat Havern the Tailteann Cup doesn’t matter as he jumps five feet into the air when Danny Magill’s shot nestles in the Cavan net approaching added time. Or when hordes of youngsters head his direction moments after the long whistle sounds at Kingspan Breffni.

The Saval man’s county career has been a slow burner, to the point Havern can’t remember exactly when he was first asked into the Down panel. Some years started off full of hope and expectation, only to fizzle out. In others he took matters into his own hands and headed for the door.

But Conor Laverty has shown full faith in the towering 28-year-old to wear the number 14 jersey, and Havern has repaid that belief in spades – not least against the Breffnimen in Saturday’s season-defining quarter-final success.

The reward, after so many ups and downs in red and black, is a first trip to Croke Park for Sunday’s semi-final showdown with surprise package Laois. It is a stage Havern wasn’t sure he would ever get to grace.

“It’s all I can think about, to tell you the truth,” he said.

“From being a child kicking the ball against the wall, all I have wanted to do was play in Croke Park and I am finally getting to go there. It’s a dream come true.

“I’ve been with Down about four, maybe five years, I’ve only two consecutive years when I have been properly in the team and in the starting 15 but it shows young lads coming through maybe that if you aren’t getting on at the start that if you push on then you will get there eventually.

“I’m not one of the young lads any more but hopefully I’ve a few more years in me in the starting 15.”

Having narrowly missed out on promotion from Division Three, the Tailteann Cup would always carry greater weight for the Mournemen once their Ulster Championship was ended by Armagh.

Patchy performances in the early rounds left more questions than answers, but Saturday’s showing against competition favourites Cavan proved a further shot in the arm as a promising first campaign under Laverty gathers momentum.

“It’s knockout football now - it’s not the last time we want to meet up,” said Havern.

“We’ve had a good season progression-wise, even though we never got promoted, and we just don’t want it to end.

“A lot of people see the performances and matches and stuff like that in the weekends, but they never really see what is going on in the background and what the players are actually doing in training.

“Some of the training sessions we are doing are tough and intense but I think that’s what’s needed to be a good county team. It’s only our first year together with ‘Lav’ and I’m not going to say it’s easy – it’s not easy, it’s definitely hard, the fitness required.

“When you’re coming to training you know you’re going to be working hard and if you can’t do it, you’re not going to play.”

The likes of Rory Mason and Ryan Johnston add a kick-passing alternative to Down’s trademark running game under Laverty, and mastering Croke Park represents another test for a developing team.

It is a place Down had hoped to be earlier in the year, admits assistant boss Mickey Donnelly, and they are determined to make the most of it now.

“Och it’s brilliant - whether it suits us or not remains to be seen,” said Donnelly.

“It was a huge carrot for the group in terms of that desire to play there. We felt we missed out on getting to the League final, so that was another ghost to get rid of.

“Croke Park’s the place we want to go… there’s only one thing you want to do in Croke Park and that’s win games.”